jet charter pilots in cockpit

The term pan pan, besides being known as airplane talk, is used in radiotelephone communications to signify that there is an urgency on board a boat, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle. It is referred to when it is a state of urgency, but not when there is an immediate danger to a person’s life or to the vessel itself.

Pan Pan vs. Mayday

Three calls of pan pan are used to signify an urgent situation that requires assistance and is usually used when a pilot has become lost, or has experienced a serious aircraft system failure that requires an immediate route or altitude change.

When a pilot utilizes airplane talk and radios out a pan pan, it informs emergency services, air traffic control, and other aircraft within distance that a safety problem exists. Some scenarios that may warrant a pan pan call are:

  • a fire located on the ground
  • spotting another aircraft in trouble
  • if a crewmember or passenger looses consciousness

A mayday radio call should be only be used for life threatening situations such as loss, or imminent loss of aircraft control, or an onboard fire.

A mayday informs emergency services and ground and air traffic control to drop all other activities and immediately initiate a rescue attempt.

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