Calling for Help on the Aircraft Radio

Super quick article today. I’m about to depart the layover hotel in San Juan for a long flight up to JFK.

There are two ways to call for help on the aircraft radio:

“Pan. Pan. Pan.”

“Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.”

What is the difference between the two, and, for extra credit, what does “Pan” mean? For even more credit, give me an example of a situation in which you might use the “Pan, pan, pan” radio call.

Toss your answer into the comment section below. You don’t have to sign in to comment. Let ‘er rip. I’ll have the answer after the conclusion of today’s airline trip.  Jeff

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

JeffKanarish August 19, 2011 at 6:19 pm

No. Stop. I’m overwhelmed by all of the replies to this article.

Really? No one is brave enough to answer the questions? I can wait.



narek August 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Pan which originated from “panne”, a breakdown. Pan-Pan-Pan would be used in case of a medical problem , or not yet life threatening mechanical breakdown. Mayday on the other hand is derived from “venez m’aider” which is french for come help me. Mayday-Mayday-Mayday would be used in case of a life threatening emergency


JeffKanarish August 22, 2011 at 3:15 am

Hey Narek:

I see the language derivatives you cited matches exactly what I saw in Wikipedia. I like the Aeronautical Information Manual’s definitions and use of Mayday and Pan Pan. Your use for each term is absolutely correct, though I can think of other situations where a pilot might use Pan Pan Pan. Thank you for speaking up! Maybe more readers will follow your lead.



Carlton August 22, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I wish I knew the answer! As a newcomer its really intriguing to read these articles! Please school me on what these terms are!


JeffKanarish August 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hey Carlton:

If you look at Narek’s answer right below your comment, you will see a pretty good discussion.

The question remains, what are some situations in which you might use Pan or Mayday? (I’m asking everyone, not just you, Carlton.)



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