As I read of the pilot’s position I thought of what I had read and heard about actual planes and bomb threats. It was my recollection that upon receipt of a bomb threat against a plane it would be diverted to the nearest airport.
Wondering what actually happens in real life I did some searching on the internet.
Under Code 7700 American air traffic controllers are directed:
a. When information is received from any source that a bomb has been placed on, in, or near an aircraft for the purpose of damaging or destroying such aircraft, notify the supervisor or facility manager. If the threat is general in nature, handle it as a suspicious activity. When the threat is targeted against a specific aircraft and you are in contact with that aircraft, take the following actions as appropriate:
1. Advise the pilot of the threat.
2. Report the threat to the Domestic Events Network (DEN) Air Traffic Security Coordinator (ATSC) via (202) 493-4170. If unable to contact the DEN ATSC notify the Transportation Security Administration/Transportation Security Operation Center (TSA/TSOC) directly at 703-563-3400.
3. Ask if the pilot desires to climb or descend to an altitude that would equalize or reduce the outside air pressure/existing cabin air pressure differential. Obtain and relay an appropriate clearance considering minimum en route altitude (MEA), minimum obstruction clearance altitude (MOCA), minimum reception altitude (MRA), and weather.
NOTE − Equalizing existing cabin air pressure with outside air pressure is a key step which the pilot may wish to take to minimize the damage potential of a bomb.
4. Handle the aircraft as an emergency, and/or provide the most expeditious handling possible with respect to the safety of other aircraft, weather conditions, ground facilities, and personnel.
NOTE − Emergency handling is discretionary and should be based on the situation. With certain types of threats, plans may call for a low-key action or response.
5. Obtain and relay clearance to a new destination, if requested.
6. When a pilot requests technical assistance or if it is apparent that such assistance is needed, do NOT suggest what actions the pilot should take concerning a bomb, but obtain the following information and notify the supervisor who will contact the DEN ATSC or TSA/TSOC as explained in a2 above.
NOTE − This information is needed by TSA explosives experts so that the situation can be assessed and immediate recommendations made to the pilot. The aviation explosives experts may not be familiar with all military aircraft configurations but can offer technical assistance which would be beneficial to the pilot.
§ Type, series, and model of the aircraft.
§ Precise location/description of the bomb device, if known.
§ Other details which may be pertinent.
At the SKYbrary site it indicates controllers should expect a pilot would request landing at the nearest airport.
On how to respond to the situation controllers are advised to follow ASSIST:
Best practice embedded in the ASSIST principle could be followed (A - Acknowledge; S - Separate, S - Silence; I - Inform, S - Support, T - Time):
· A - acknowledge the bomb warning, ask for intentions and provide information regarding next suitable for landing aerodromes as necessary;
· S - separate the aircraft and if necessary prioritise it for landing, allow long final if requested, keep the active runway clear of departures, arrivals and vehicles;
· S - silence the non-urgent calls (as required) and use separate frequency where possible;
· I - inform the supervisor and other sectors/units concerned; inform the airport emergency fire rescue services and all concerned parties according to local procedures; as tower controller expect airport authorities to execute their bomb threat emergency plan.
· S - support the flight by providing any information requested and necessary such as type of approach, runway length and any additional aerodrome details, etc.
· T - provide time for the crew to assess the situation, don’t press with non urgent matters.
After a week in which Canadian airline WestJet received 5 bomb threats and Air Canada 1 bomb threat The Toronto Star published an article on what happens when a bomb threat is received:
Edward McKeogh, President of Canadian Aviation Safety
Consultants, said the basic approach is the same – every threat
must be taken seriously.
“As soon as they find out about a threat of this nature, they
relay it to the flight in question, or sometimes all flights that
are airborne, and those flights will then divert to the nearest
suitable airport,” he said.
It is easy to find articles of diversion taking place where a passenger, usually drunk, makes some comment about a bomb threat.
None of the online articles advised if the procedure of diversion changes when the source of the threat on the plane cannot be identified.