ATC Ops procedure in case of a sick person on board

Published on Tuesday 14 March 2017

There is a procedure to follow in case of a sick person on board : the ATC, detailed on this page step-by-step.

Providing assistance to aircrews

Radio transmissions

In case of a medical problem on board, the PAN PAN urgency signal may be used by aircrews. Indeed, “an urgency condition is defined as a condition concerning the safety of an aircraft or other vehicle, or of some person on board or within sight, but which does not require immediate assistance.” (ICAO annex 10 Volume 2 Aeronautical Telecommunications)

ATC & Priority

En route : in response to the urgency signal, ATC will provide the most direct routes available. If the crew doesn’t explicitly declare an urgency situation, no particular priority will be given.

Approach sequence & landing : ATC will give full priority to an aircraft carrying any sick or seriously injured persons requiring urgent medical attention whether the urgency signal is used or not.(Ref ICAO 4444 &

Gathering the necessary information only

ATC will need :

  • Flight crew’s intentions (continuation of the flight or diversion),
  • Request for priority if no urgency signal is transmitted, clarify your expectations as regards assistance needed on stand.
  • Nature of the medical urgency condition :
    - symptoms,
    - age & gender,
    - person in charge of the diagnosis.
    - Do they speak ? Do they answer ? Do they breathe normally ? Are they in pain ? Where does it hurt ?
  • Where is the passenger seated (row & seat number) to ideally position the stairs and rapidly disembark.

Relaying the nature of the medical urgency to ATC is essential to ensure that the directly concerned medical units will await you at your stand. The sooner these indications are transmitted, the better the coordination, the efficiency and anticipation of the safety processes.

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REMINDER : the “PAN PAN MEDICAL” signal solely refers to a Geneva Convention term associated with medical transportation by parties involved in a conflict.

ATC provides coordination & assistance

ATC provides coordination & assistance
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A specific transponder code may be requested to facilitate coordination between civil & military control units, especialy if a priority needs to be given (direct routing, request for early descent, etc…). Outside of any distress conditions, the code 5677 may be used. This code is specific to France, for flights in need of particular ATC attention. On the radar display, labels are highlighted and visible to all civil & military ATS units.

Reminder : pilots in command with a sick person on board sometimes declare an emergency situation and continue flying to the planned destination. By NO MEANS, a sick person is a distress condition. (Ref AIP France GEN 3.6-7/4.2).

Urgency & crew availability

ATC have been advised that urgent & emergency situations require crews’ complete attention as a thorough follow-up of the relevant check list is crucial and should never be interrupted.

HOP ! Air France
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