We have all heard the phrase “we do not negotiate with terrorists”, which is the correct response in order to not give the terrorists leverage, but unfortunately a pilot cannot say that no matter how cool Jodie Dench made it sound in “The World is Not Enough” because then it will go in one of two directions, the first one which is the best but unlikely case scenario, where the terrorists surrender with the understanding that they will not get what they want. The second one is that the hijacker panics and reacts horribly, in other words, he might think “if I’m going down, I’m taking everyone with me “and that will literally be the case. Hence be well aware, no pilot will ever take those odds, he or she will start to analyze the situation, think deeply about the next step and recall all the possible training they received in that area, and ultimately the pilot will take the best decision fitting of the situation.
History of Airplane Terrorism
Before we speak about the proper procedure a pilot will take in case a situation like that occurs; I will be referring to Pilot Oliver Pelham Burn’s quick history lesson of aeroplane terrorism, he said the tactic of aeroplane terrorism has changed over the years. In the 1960s, terrorists would hijack the plane, force it to land and then hold everybody for ransom. As this quickly became difficult over the years, they switched to a new technique; putting a bomb on a plane and not boarding. Pan Am Flight 103 was one example of such an event. The bomber put a bomb in his luggage but did not board the flight. The plane was flying over the Scottish town of Lockerbie when the bomb exploded, killing everyone on board plus 11 people on the ground. Once airlines implemented baggage control, meaning if the passenger were not on the plane, then the baggage would be removed, this strategy became impossible. Then they started using suicide bombers. Many bombs either failed to detonate or failed to bring the plane down but did cause serious injury to many on board. The terrorists then switched strategy once more to suicide hijacking. This is the most recent strategy that we have seen, but due to the redesign of cockpit doors and strengthened screening this tactic has become impossible, hence we can conclude that travelling by plane only becomes safer and safer with every passing year.
What is the Procedure?
Now back to explaining the proper procedure, first things first the pilot enters the squawk number 7500 which is a number that alerts Air Traffic Control (ATC) that the aircraft is being hijacked, then making sure the flight deck is secured. One of the pilots most difficult decisions is to keep the door closed no matter what, even if the terrorists hold a hostage and threatens to kill them, the door must stay locked, no matter who that person might be, it’s not personal, the pilot can’t risk the hijackers getting full control of the flight deck. After securing the flight deck, the pilot should divert to the nearest airport, ATC will be making that aircraft the priority and preparing for its landing so that once it lands, counterterrorism police will board the aircraft and deal with them.
This all might sound terrifying but did you know, with all that history of air travel, that according to U.S Department of Transportation Bureau of transportation statistics, air transportation is the safest modes of travel comparing it with the automobile, railroad, boat, and public transit. Let that sink in.