RAF scrambles fighter jets after passenger flight terror alerts

Aircraft shadowed twice this month as threat of 9/11-style attack grows

Terrorist alerts on passenger jets have led to RAF fighters being scrambled more than a dozen times in the last 18 months, amid increasing intelligence reports of Islamist groups focusing on hijacking airliners.

Two of the incidents took place this month, with warplanes shadowing transatlantic flights.

Scrambled British fighters have a variety of options, including shooting down the airliners, if they are deemed to be an immediate threat. The decision on a course of action will be taken, on a chain of command active 24 hours, at "the highest level of government".

Details of the RAF's role in "homeland security" emerges in the wake of the plot to blow up a series of flights to America and the arrest on board a plane of the Nigerian "underpants bomber".

Warnings that al-Qa'ida was plotting to carry out another 9/11-type "spectacular" was one of the reasons behind the UK upgrading its security-alert status two months ago.

While the introduction of measures like body scanners at UK airports will help detect would-be hijackers, say the security agencies, the role of the RAF is essential in monitoring flights coming into British airspace.

While the emphasis is on guiding suspect flights to an airfield where further action, through negotiations or military action, can be taken, the eventuality, in an extreme case, of a flight having to be shot down, means, say defence officials, that a clear decision-making chain is necessary.

On 2 March this year, British authorities received a request for help after a passenger attempted to get into the flight deck of an American Airlines plane from Dallas to Heathrow. Tornado F3s from RAF Leuchars in Fife and Typhoons from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire were sent on an interception operation while Downing Street was informed of the possible emergency. Armed police were sent to an airport – the location of which cannot be given for security reasons – where the flight may have had to be diverted. On that occasion, however, it transpired that the passenger who was trying to get into the cockpit, a woman, had become distressed after a member of her family had become ill.

On 22 March, Typhoons were scrambled again from RAF Coningsby after UK air-traffic controllers picked up phrases including the words "ransom" and "hostage" on another flight from the US. The flight crew also asked for permission to carry out a sudden descent in order to "test" an auxiliary power unit, a procedure deemed highly unusual and thus suspicious.

The Typhoons shadowed the American flight across UK airspace into Belgium, where it landed. According to defence officials, "the matter was resolved", but no further information has been released as to what happened.

An RAF officer said: " What we have learned is that in the current climate we have to be ready for any eventuality. There are a variety of options one can take before going kinetic."

RAF jets have also been flying an increasing number of missions to counter "probing" flights by Russian aircraft – including a "Blackjack" capable of carrying a nuclear payload off the Hebrides on 10 March.

While the resumption of the Russian flights to test Nato reaction, following a post-Cold War thaw, is a sign of new belligerence by Moscow, "it is absolutely nothing like as dangerous as the prospect of al-Qa'ida taking over a plane and crashing it into a population centre", said aviation security consultant Alan Pilton.

"The point of origin of many of these flights are from places where the security is not so good, and that is the reason we have to face the nightmare scenario of a hijacked passenger air-liner flying into UK airspace," he said.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker