I have a question regarding an aircraft in emergency. Of course it will have priority for landing but if the position of this aircraft is very far, like for example 20 minutes or more away, would the tower be allowed to clear other aircraft to land or take off? Is it permissible for the tower to do so?

Is there any law or statement in the civil aviation regulation about such things?


2 Answers 2


FAA Order JO 7110.65W - ATC Procedures, Chapter 10 outlines how ATC should handle procedures for emergency situations

Right at he very beginning, we see the most important part:

10-1-1(d) Because of the infinite variety of possible emergency situations, specific procedures cannot be prescribed. However, when you believe an emergency exists or is imminent, select and pursue a course of action which appears to be most appropriate under the circumstances and which most nearly conforms to the instructions in this manual.

In other words, they don't dictate what controllers should do in an emergency; they are to use their best judgment about how to handle it.

So, a controller is free to continue using a runway for both arrivals and departures if they believe doing so won't interfere with the emergency aircraft.

In fact, for non-urgent emergencies like gear extension failures, I've heard them hold the emergency aircraft to get as many others in and out as possible before the runway is closed for a gear-up landing.

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be a good idea anyway to reduce the amount of fuel the aircraft is carrying, which reduces the weight (I assume that can only help) and the fire risk? $\endgroup$
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @gnasher729 if there are parallel runways they will also asked if the emergency aircraft will use the outer of the two to so they can keep the inner one open or get it opened earlier. This helps prevent another plane from needed to declare an emergency for fuel reasons. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @gnasher729 I normally take off with full tanks, even for a short hop, and I’m not holding for up to 6 hours to burn off excess fuel. Though I will try to crash somewhere with ARFF available for exactly that reason. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 22:39

Yes, generally speaking, the runway can be used. That said, whether or not it will actually be done depends on many different factors, such as the type of emergency, the size of the airport (maybe there are multiple runways), the current traffic load, the emergency response required etc. The fire marshall would most likely be the only person who could actually decide to close the runway, but ATC could, in practise, decide to not let anyone else land until the emergency is over. It depends.

From an ATC point of view, it may make more sense to get other flights on the ground before the emergency is due to land, instead of having to deal with airborne holdings and possible diversions. However, the risk of another aircraft breaking down and blocking the runway is non-zero, so if the inbound emergency has absolutely no other choice than to land on that specific runway, maybe just closing it for other traffic is the better option.


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