Squawk 7500: How to Deal with Hijacking?

Pilots · 7 min read · Oct 20, 2022
squawk 7500

Aviation operations require great communication to guarantee everything runs smoothly and safely. Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a vast terminology associated with aviation operations.

Moreover, there are many things that need to be easily and efficiently identified to make aviation communications effective and efficient. For example, air traffic control needs to easily convey the most important information to a pilot in the quickest and simplest possible way.

And the same applies to the pilot trying to inform air traffic control about the situation of the flight. Therefore, to achieve this type of communication, certain codes have been created and established as the way to convey such information.

Of course, among the many codes air traffic controllers and pilots use, there are the squawk codes. If you have not heard about them before, or you have but still do not have it clear what they are used for, do not worry. Keep reading as we do our best to explain it. Especially the use of the 7500 squawk code.

An aircraft's cockpit with two pilots.

Air Traffic Control and squawk codes

Air Traffic Control (ATC) plays a vital role in aviation since it represents the connection between the pilots and the rest of the system.

Squawk codes are provided by air traffic control to each flight, and they help ATC immediately identify specific situations any flight may be experiencing, even without actually speaking to the pilot since they show up directly on the screen of the corresponding air traffic controller.

For this to happen, pilots must enter the corresponding squawk codes into the aircraft transponder. The transponder is constantly communicating with the ground and providing “pings” with information, such as pressure altitude, location and speed.

When the squawk codes are entered correctly, air traffic control (ATC) will be able to see specific information such as speed and altitude, among other things. Now, the question is what is a squawk code? Let’s answer that now.

What is a Squawk Code?

Squawk codes are four-digit codes that air traffic control (ATC) provides to each aircraft for effective communication. Each particular aircraft can have its own squawk codes because the four digits offer a great number of possible combinations without repetitions. However, there are some squawk codes, like the 7500 that are reserved for very specific purposes. We’ll speak more about that down below.

A cockpit of an aircraft which is flying high over the clouds.

Why do Squawk Codes Matter?

Squawk codes are an important part of air traffic control, helping to maintain the safety and efficiency of the airspace. Every day, countless flights take off and land safely at airports around the world. But when something goes wrong, the consequences can be catastrophic.

When a plane is assigned a squawk code, it allows air traffic controllers to quickly and easily identify the aircraft on their radar displays. This helps to ensure that planes are correctly spaced apart and prevents potential collisions.

When a pilot picks up a squawk code from the transponder, it sends a signal to controllers that something is wrong. This allows controllers to quickly identify the problem and take appropriate action.

In addition, squawk codes can be used to alert controllers of potential emergencies, such as a plane losing altitude or veering off course.

In some cases, squawk codes can also be used to alert other aircraft in the vicinity of a potential hazard. In short, squawk codes play a vital role in ensuring the safety of both passengers and crew.

Let’s now take a look at some of those specific squawk codes that are saved for specific purposes.

Equipment in an aircraft cockpit.

What does it mean to squawk 7500?

The squawk code 7500 is an emergency code used by pilots to inform ATC of a plane hijacking taking place, which means that the pilots have either been forced to change course or are no longer in control of the aircraft.

The code is entered into the transponder, which then sends out a signal that can be detected by the ATC. Usually, once the code has been entered, the pilot will also broadcast a Mayday call on the radio to alert other aircraft in the area.

In most cases, squawk code 7500 will result in an immediate response from ATC officials, who will dispatch law enforcement to the scene or fighter jets if the threat is still airborne. The 7500 squawk code is considered the most effective way to signal a hijacking in progress. As a result, squawking 7500 is a serious matter that should only be done in cases of real distress.

What happens if you accidentally use the squawk code 7500?

It is clear why the use of the 7500 code is strictly regulated, and pilots are required to confirm that they are actually hijacked when selecting this code.

If the 7500 squawk code is mistakenly selected, the pilot will immediately receive a call from air traffic control asking for confirmation. At this point, the pilot in command or the first officer is able to inform the transponder code has been used by mistake, and that there is no hijacked aircraft.

Once the mistake has been rectified, the aircraft will be assigned a new squawk code and will be monitored more closely by ATC in case the crew has been forced to say it was a mistake. In some cases, the squawk code may also be changed if there is evidence that the aircraft has been hijacked, and local authorities will be informed about the hijacked aircraft.

Now, let’s see other squawk codes such as the 7600 and the 7700.

A two seater aircraft's cockpit.

What does squawk 7600 mean?

The squawk 7600 is an emergency code that is used to indicate a radio failure. This code is typically used when the aircraft’s communication system has failed or is malfunctioning.

When squawk code 7600 is selected, the aircraft’s transponder will transmit a special signal that can be detected by ground radar. This signal helps to identify the aircraft and its location, which can be critical in an emergency. In addition, squawk code 7600 is also often used in conjunction with other codes, such as 7700, to provide additional information about the nature of the situation.

What is a 7700 squawk?

Squawk 7700 is the universal distress signal. When an aircraft experiences any emergency, the pilot will transmit a squawk 7700 on the transponder. This code alerts air traffic control that the aircraft is in distress and in need of assistance.

The squawk code can be used for a variety of emergencies, including engine failure, fire onboard the aircraft, and loss of cabin pressurization. In some cases, the squawk code may also be used to indicate a hijacking or terrorist incident.

In any case, squawk 7700 is a serious distress signal that should only be used in an emergency situation.

Is there an easy way to remember these codes?

Pilots have a lot of information to use and remember along a flight. In fact, this is the main reason for them to use checklists and mnemonic devices to remember information. And squawk codes are no exception. Fortunately, they are actually easy to remember.

One way to remember the three emergency squawk codes is to use rhymes. It goes like this:

  • “7-5, he can’t drive” to remember that the 7500 relates to hijacking or crew no longer being in control of the aircraft.
  • “7-6, get the radio fixed” to remember that the 7600 is used for communication failure.
  • “7-7, gone to heaven” to remember that the 7700 is the code for all other emergencies, including catastrophic ones.

Another way to remember is provided by the Pilot Institute, and they call it the “All-in-One Sentence”. It goes like this:

“Hi Jack, I can’t talk; there’s an emergency.”

Why is this a great way to remember the squawk code list? Well…

“Hi jack” – (Hijack)

“Can’t talk” (communication failure)

“There’s an emergency” (Self-explanatory)

As long as you remember, the squawk code list starts from 7500, then 7600, then 7700. The above sentence is a great way to remember what squawk codes mean.

Gauges of an aircraft cockpit panel. Squawk 7500

Final remarks about squawk codes

As you can see, there are a wide variety of squawk codes that pilots can use to provide vital information to the ATC, especially when it comes to indicating an emergency.

In the case of an emergency or an unlawful interference, the most well-known squawk codes are the 7500, which is used to indicate a hijacking, and the general distress code, the 7700. However, there are also codes for other emergencies, such as squawk 7600 for radio failure which can also be serious given the importance of communications for flight operations.

Ultimately, squawk codes are a vital part of aviation safety, and they play an important role in ensuring that pilots and ATC officials can quickly and efficiently communicate in the event of an emergency to swiftly take the best course of action to avoid any catastrophic results.

Frequently asked questions about squawk codes

Does ATC assign a new squawk code if you don’t like the number?

There is no procedural requirements to accommodate pilots’ superstitions as there is a limited amount of codes and in some airspaces the systems use almost all of them at the same time.

Although you can always ask ATC to provide you a new code if the airspace is not as busy.

Why do transponders use their own codes and not aircraft registration numbers?

Squawk codes are not only to used to identify an aircraft in that specific ATC’s radar, but also provide additional and vital flight information.

How many squawk codes are there in total?

There are 4096 squawk codes and only a couple of them have a very specific meaning. There are 3 codes that have a uniform meaning globally: 7500 (unlawful interference), 7600 (communication failure), 7700 (emergency).

Can I find out why an aircraft squawked an emergency code?

Unless the accident or an incident has been investigated by a body of authority, such as the FAA, you will not be able to find out what the exact problem was that triggered the squawk.
However, if the situation was minor, it is doubtful a report or an investigation will be made.

Will the squawk code automatically change to 7×00 in an emergency?

The short answer is not really. In case of an emergency, the pilots of an aircraft will be in contact with ATC as soon as something goes wrong, so changing the squawk code would not be effective. What’s more, you might be facing the risk of becoming unidentifiable.

On the other hand, changing the code could be beneficial if you need immediate attention and you cannot get through to the ATC fast enough. One situation like that could be rapid decompression of the cabin.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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