Last week’s disruptive behaviour of a passenger on board an Indigo flight that created a hijack scare has led the government to work on creating a second channel of communication between aircraft and the air traffic controller (ATC).
A panel of senior officers headed by Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar, which met over the weekend to review the aviation security establishment’s response to last Sunday’s event, felt that much of the confusion that led to the hijack scare could have been avoided had the ATC spoken directly to the cabin crew.
“So far, the ATC’s only channel of communication is the pilot in the cockpit. In case of a hijack, the cockpit doors are locked and the pilot can’t figure out what is happening in the aircraft,” a senior official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said.
Jitender Kumar Mohalla, the passenger who virtually grounded the airliner, is in jail for forcing an emergency landing.
Officials at the Cabinet Secretariat, ministries of civil aviation and home affairs will hold meetings over the next few weeks to work out modalities to prepare the security establishment better to deal with a real hijack situation.
“The hijack scare was the first time in eight years that the revised standard operating procedures were put to test,” a civil aviation ministry official, who didn’t want to be identified, said. In the aftermath of 9/11, the government had started deploying sky marshals on all routes on random basis.
The meeting also decided to provide special training to pilots and cabin crew to help them assess the situation more accurately, and also when to sound a hijack alert.
Security officials were concerned over the manner in which passengers called up friends and relatives on ground — hijackers could use phones to stay in touch with their handlers — and wondered if there was a way to jam hijackers’ frequency access.
The official, however, made it clear that there were no delays on part of the National Security Guard commandos in entering the aircraft as was reported by a section of the media. “It took 20-30 minutes to open the doors as some operationalprecautions were discussed. There are many areas that need improvement,” a home ministry official said.