When a military aircraft is landing at a civilian airport, and a holding pattern is in place, do military aircraft get to skip the que, or join in earlier in the holding pattern?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "It depends". Your question is unfortunately too broad to be answered. You should specify what you mean by "military aircraft". Is that simply aircraft owned by the military, or aircraft on an active military mission? If so, which mission? Are they exempted from ATFM? What is the reason for the airborne delays being enforced? And finally, which country or area are you interested in? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard we already added the caa-uk tag $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ I can offer this data point. I was an A7E driver for the US Navy and had the chance to do many cross countries. Only a few civilian airfields were ever used on these. There were several reasons for not using civilian fields. One had to do with contract fuel prices, and another with the lack of the starting units our aircraft required. The last reason was there was almost always a military base where we needed one. I landed at 3 civilian airports, one an international airport, and we were handled like any other aircraft. This is just my limited experience though. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron: OTOH, when we kept the Cherokee at an FBO at RNO, it wasn't uncommon to share the ramp with everything from F-14s to C5-As. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 18:23

2 Answers 2

  • Do military aircraft get landing priority?

If the government so wishes, yes. ICAO Doc 4444 says:

7.6.3 Priority for landing If an aircraft enters an aerodrome traffic circuit without proper authorization, it shall be permitted to land if its actions indicate that it so desires. If circumstances warrant, aircraft which are in contact with the controller may be instructed by the controller to give way so as to remove as soon as possible the hazard introduced by such unauthorized operation. In no case shall permission to land be withheld indefinitely. In cases of emergency it may be necessary, in the interests of safety, for an aircraft to enter a traffic circuit and effect a landing without proper authorization. Controllers should recognize the possibilities of emergency action and render all assistance possible. Priority shall be given to:

a) an aircraft which anticipates being compelled to land because of factors affecting the safe operation of the aircraft (engine failure, shortage of fuel, etc.);

b) hospital aircraft or aircraft carrying any sick or seriously injured persons requiring urgent medical attention;

c) aircraft engaged in search and rescue operations; and

d) other aircraft as may be determined by the appropriate authority

Or c), if by military it's a search and rescue C-130 (for example) wanting to land to refuel and be on alert ASAP.

Now is it wise to put d) ahead of a)? Of course not. So if there is a prioritized government VIP, they will have to wait for the low-on-fuel emergency or the rogue-in-distress (first two paragraphs).

If it's a fighter, say an F-35, why would it land in Heathrow for example among civilian Jumbos? Unless of course it's been coordinated beforehand, or there is an emergency, then yes it will land first.

In the documentary Jetstream, RCAF F/A-18's flew from Canada to KLAX and landed there during heavy traffic, they were treated as normal planes when it came to the sequencing. It was part of their training to manage the complex aircraft in the heavy traffic environment of the civilian world.

You can watch it here. The narrator says (around 3:40):

In Cold Lake an F-18 coming in to land is top priority, but here you are just another plane in a long queue.


In the absence of any extenuating circumstances (emergency, min fuel, or operational requirements), all aircraft are treated equally and are sorted as per ATC requirements. If ATC establishes a hold, aircraft will be stacked in (typically) 1,000' increments down to the altitude depicted on the approach plate. The lowest altitude aircraft is the highest priority, military or civilian.


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