Distress and Diversion Cell: A Practical Guide to Practice Pan and Training Fix

Covering the whole of the UK’s Flight Information Region Distress and Diversion (D&D) Cell stands ready to assist pilots 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

‘D&D’ as the centre is commonly known, is based at the RAF’s unit within the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) Centre at Swanwick, Hampshire. D&D controllers provide services to aircrew in emergency situations, irrespective of status, aircraft complexity or pilot qualification and they are equipped with extensive radar, communications and specialist facilities.

D&D has the unique ability to provide accurate position fixing using Direction Finding (DF) traces on an auto-triangulation display, providing the following advantages:-

  • The display uses Ordnance Survey mapping to enable position reports with reference to towns/villages/geographical features
  • Steers can be provided to the nearest aerodrome or any aerodrome requested by the pilot
  • The system can be used for any pilot within the UK FIR and it is a free service
  • The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • The service is available for pilots who are lost or who are unsure of their position
  • The service is available for practice/training fixes whenever requested
Photo taken at NATS' Swanwick Centre on 07/09/2018.
Photo taken at NATS’ Swanwick Centre. NATS photo.

Unit Tasks

  • Provide assistance to aircraft in an emergency
  • Carry out tracing action for missing / lost aircraft
  • Provide facilities for Practice Emergency procedures on UHF and VHF Guard
  • Provide an air traffic service to aircraft in emergency or transit to a diversion aerodrome
  • Search and Rescue (SAR) alerting service for both Military and Civil aircraft on UHF and VHF Guard
  • Maintain and disseminate up to date weather information
  • Activating Temporary Danger Areas for SAR helicopters at the scene of an incident
A RAF air traffic controller (left) and air traffic control assistant (right) on duty within the Distress and Diversion cell. MOD photo.

Emergency Frequencies

  • Civil emergencies – 121.5 VHF
  • Military Guard emergencies – 243.0 UHF
  • Military emergency practices – 245.1 UHF

Practice Pan and Training Fix requests

The D&D actively promote pilots to use the facility to conduct  Practice Pan and Training Fix scenarios under normal flight conditions, so that they are familiar with the service that can be provided, should a real emergency occur. The D&D are there to help aircrew and conducting a Practice Pan and Training Fix also provides D&D controllers the opportunity to hone their skills too.

Get Into Flying has produced a short video for pilots to refer to, prior to conducting their own Practice Pan and Training Fix radio calls. Please watch the video as a reference. It was the author’s first time on the D&D frequency also, but you will note the professionalism of the controller and the service provided and the Training Fix was incredibly accurate, being able to quickly locate all the identifying features provided on the flying chart.

Before Transmitting

Conduct the (practice) calls in an area you are familiar with, so that you are both orientated and able to determine how accurate the position information is.

Request a short period of time off the frequency of the controller you are working, to conduct your Practice Pan and Training Fix calls. They will likely ask you to retain your current squawk.

Listen out on the D&D frequency (121.5 for non-military flights) for at least 30 seconds to ensure that the frequency is clear.


D&D Callsign – London Centre

Aircraft – “Practice Pan, Practice Pan, Practice Pan, Callsign, Practice Pan”

London – “Callsign, London Centre, Practice Pan acknowledged, Pass details when ready”

Aircraft – “Practice Pan, Callsign, Nature of Practice emergency and assistance required”


Aircraft – “Training Fix, Training Fix, Training Fix, Callsign, Training fix”

London – “Callsign, London Centre, Your position indicates…… do you require further assistance?”

Further Information

AOPA UK featured a thorough and more detailed article in their recent members publication, which was the inspiration behind this practical guide. Please join and support AOPA, the world’s largest and most influential aviation membership association.

D&D actively encourage pilots to visit their website and to make a Practice Pan and Training Fix calls on their frequency.

It is extremely reassuring to have the knowledge and practical experience of communicating with this unit and in having a solid understanding of the services that they provide. They are committed to safety and will provide a safe and accurate service to all airspace users.

If you haven’t communicated with them before on frequency, I can strongly recommend that you do so and Get Into Flying hope that this article and video will give you an insight and confidence to make your own Practice Pan and Training Fix call when you are next airborne.

As the old saying goes : “There is only one first time” and it’s far better to experience their services for the first time when not in an emergency situation!


If you have any further questions in relation to the D&D area of operations, then please contact them:-


Military – 95586 2691

Civil – 01489 612691

Fax – 01489 612392

Email – d&d.mil@nats.co.uk


Get Into Flying would like to thank the D&D Cell at RAF(U) Swanwick for their communication and support in completing this article and video footage.

Get Into Flying would also like to thank AOPA UK for their support in relation to creating this practical guide.