If I am pilot, approaching my destination airport and realise that, after landing I will have less than 30 minutes of fuel remaining, how exactly should I express this when communicating with ATC?

  • in ICAO rules
  • in FAA rules
  • in EASA rules

For example, in a country where Spanish is an approved ATC language, would it be sufficient to say "ABC12345 FL210 en acercamiento y solicitamos prioridad para la aproximación. Al momento se nos ha presentado un problema de combustible" ("ABC12345 FL210 inbound and we request priority for the approach. Right now we have a fuel problem")

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    $\begingroup$ Have you looked up any of the FAA and EASA regs on the terms "minimum fuel" , "emergency fuel" and 'declaring an emergency?" The FAA's AIM used to have the rules on that ... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @KorvinStarmast: That is a good point - As a non-pilot, I've had trouble locating definitive documents from ICAO. Especially in Spanish. My question was motivated by a related but off-topic question - I thought the author of that question might find answers to this (hopefully on-topic) question useful to them. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Federico: I wonder if the poster has Avianca Flight 52 in mind. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ Is this about the crash in Colombia with the Chapecoense football team on board? $\endgroup$
    – Dediqated
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Medellin seems prone to such occurrences. Btw, asking this general question because of an accident, even while the investigation is ongoing, is different from speculating about that accident. Clarifying proper procedures is a necessary prerequisite for anybody to form their own opinion based on accessible facts. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:42

3 Answers 3


(This is very closely related to this question, and see this one too.)

At least in the US, cutting into fuel reserves isn't an emergency by itself. But assuming that things have gone beyond "minimum fuel" and you clearly need priority for landing then you should indeed declare an emergency.

The wording you mentioned seems 'weak' to me; if you do have to declare an emergency, there should be no possible doubt about it or about what you need. Assuming that I was already in contact with ATC, I'd probably say something like this (see the AIM 6-3-2):

Mayday, mayday, mayday. Louisville Approach, N12345 is declaring an emergency, low fuel. We are now direct runway 35R for landing. 3 on board, 15 minutes fuel remaining.

Note that if time is critical I'm not going to "request" anything, I'll just tell ATC what I'm doing and let them sort out the rest. That phraseology and statement of intentions should be understood anywhere in the world.

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    $\begingroup$ The last paragraph sums it all up nicely. The fuel starvation crashes have all, to my (uncertain) knowledge, been caused because the commander do not assert themselves and tell the world "this is what is going to happen, get everyone else out of my way". $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:04


According to an IFALPA Briefing Leaflet of 2012 "Amendment 36 to ICAO Annex 6 Part I"

The pilot-in-command shall advise ATC of a minimum fuel state by declaring MINIMUM FUEL when, having committed to land at a specific aerodrome, the pilot calculates that any change to the existing clearance to that aerodrome may result in landing with less than planned final reserve fuel.

Pilots should not expect any form of priority handling as a result of a “MINIMUM FUEL” declaration.

The pilot-in-command shall declare a situation of fuel emergency by broadcasting MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, FUEL, when the calculated usable fuel predicted to be available upon landing at the nearest aerodrome where a safe landing can be made is less than the planned final reserve fuel.


The EASA guidance seems to be identical to ICAO guidance.

For example, the following text has been attributed to EHAM airport briefing (Jeppesen 10-1P10)

Only when the pilot declares an emergency, radio call prefixed by MAYDAY (3x) for distress or PAN PAN (3x) for urgency, priority handling will be provided. Calls such as “low on fuel” have no status in the Amsterdam FIR.

Related (see Pondlife's answer)

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, and probably sensible, that they would rather have you divert than declare an emergency. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 20:14

In Australia, from 8 November 2018,

... the fixed fuel reserve for day visual flight rules (VFR) for piston or turboprop small aeroplanes is 30 minutes.


When conducting these checks, you may discover that you would be landing at your original planned destination without sufficient fuel, that is, your fixed fuel reserve remaining.

If this occurs, make an alternate plan to land safely with sufficient fuel at a different location than you had originally planned. Your new safe landing location will depend on your aircraft capabilities and the conditions.

However, if a safe landing location is not an option and you are landing with less than your fixed fuel reserve [30 minutes of fuel], then you must declare Mayday Fuel.

Thus under your scenario, it would be MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY FUEL ...



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