£100k fines for “silent” airliners that cause RAF Typhoons to launch

Typhoon FGR.4 RAF

Airlines could face hefty financial penalties by the Department of Transport if one of their airliners fails to identify itself to ground controllers causing the Royal Air Force to launch Typhoon interceptors. A report published in The Times states the fine could be as high as £100,000 in order to deter such activity which happens with alarming regularity.

In the last year, the RAF has had to launch Typhoon fighters at least twice a month to investigate so-called “silent” airliners. As well as being an expensive nuisance, the fact the RAF aircraft are heavily armed and that the MoD is constantly faced with having to address the potential for terrorism adds a dangerous element to the situation.

It’s not just airlines that are guilty of failing to adhere to proper flight regulations however. Private pilots have been just as problematic for air traffic controllers when it comes to adequately identifying themselves. Earlier this year two Typhoons raced at supersonic speeds across central England and Wales to intercept a private business jet which failed to respond to radio calls and appeared to be heading out over the Irish Sea without clearance.

The Department of Transport currently imposes a £5,000 fine for airlines and pilots guilty of such acts but this has failed to be an adequate deterrence hence the plans for such a dramatic increase.



Are RAF fighters set to protect the Republic of Ireland from hijacked airliners?


Over the past week, the Irish media have circulated reports that a secret agreement exists between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom that permits Royal Air Force fighter aircraft to enter Irish airspace in order to shoot down hijacked airliners in a 9/11-type scenario. The story broke on Monday when The Irish Examiner claimed that it had five credible sources within the Irish government and one close to the UK government that the agreement does exist although the Irish Department of Defence refused to answer questions on the topic.

The Irish Examiner claims that the agreement was reached between the Irish departments of defence, foreign affairs and the Irish Aviation Authority and their UK counterparts. As part of the agreement to protect Ireland from such a scenario as the 9/11 attacks, the RAF could also operate in Irish airspace if it was suspected that the hijacked aircraft was to be used against the UK.

Typhoon and bearAt present the Irish Air Corps has no fast-jet combat aircraft of its own. It does have a number of Pilatus PC-9 intermediate trainers that provide air policing duties but these are prop-driven aircraft that lack the speed or firepower of an air superiority fighter such as the RAF’s Typhoon FGR.4. Some sources have suggested that the agreement may also concern the problem of Russian bombers operating close to Irish airspace which have caused major problems for the Irish air traffic control gird and to which the Irish have been unable to counter themselves.

Responding to The Irish Eaxminer’s claims, the Irish Department of Defence reiterated that;

Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and the gardaí, and that it is the long-standing practice of the department not to make any comment on operational or security matters that may affect the State.

The Republic of Ireland has long held a militarily neutral stance on the world stage and is not a member of NATO. Earlier this year the British and Irish governments signed an historic military cooperation agreement but this primarily concerned training.

Scottish Aviation Jetstream T.1 XX499 at Brooklands Museum

A collection of pictures of Scottish Aviation Jetstream T.1 XX499 on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.

All photos were taken on April 5th 2016
Photos: Tony Wilkins

The Jetstream was originally conceived by the Handley Page company but in 1970 the company went bankrupt. Production continued however thanks to a consortium being formed out of companies that had been subcontracted to build parts for the Jetstream before Handley Page went bankrupt. Chiefly among these were Scottish Aviation who received an order for 26 Jetstream 201s from the RAF where they were designated Jetstream T.1 (the ‘T’ indicating its training role).

XX499 was delivered to the RAF in 1976 for use as a multi-engine trainer. It was withdrawn and delivered to Brooklands in 2008.

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NEWS: Watchkeeper drone cleared to fly in civil airspace

Watchkeeper British Army drone UAVUK defence firm Thales recently flew its Watchkeeper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in civil airspace for the first time having been granted clearance from the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The drone took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight of which around one hour was through civilian airspace with the craft being managed by air traffic controllers on the ground. This is the first time a UAV has been flown in non-segregated airspace along with commercial aircraft in the UK.

The test run has been hailed as a success with operators saying it brings the UK one step closer to using unmanned aircraft for various applications including border security and search and rescue roles. Thales believes this first foray into civilian airspace will lay the foundations for developing the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of UAVs in UK air space.

The flight was good news for the Watchkeeper program which has come under criticism in recent years for being well behind schedule.The drone is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV and in March of last year the Ministry of Defence finally granted Watchkeeper a Release of Service enabling the British Army to commence flight training with the aircraft. However the program has been further delayed by reports that there aren’t enough operators being trained to keep the drone at an operational level although the Army has said it is addressing this problem.

Operation: Condor (1966) – Argentina Invades Stanley Racecourse

DC-4 Condor

It was supposed to be just a regular flight for the crew of the Aerolineas Argentina DC-4 airliner. On the morning of the 28th September 1966 at Buenos Aires airport the pilots worked through their checklist as the thirty five passengers boarded. Among them were eighteen members of a scrap metal union and a journalist named Dardo Cabo. The flight took off as scheduled and the passengers and crew seemed to settle in for their flight to Rio Gallegos.

However, shortly after take off the metal workers and Cabo rose up and took control of the aircraft in what was one of the first major hijackings in South America. The other passengers and crew expected to find themselves being held hostage but were astounded (some even joyous) when they found out that the hijackers planned to fly the DC-4 to Los Malvinas but known in the English speaking world as the Falkland Islands.

Their plan was simple; to “liberate” them from the British.

This bizarre incident took place during one of the most volatile times in Anglo-Argentine relations over the islands. Over the previous year the Argentinians had stepped up their efforts to reclaim the islands through an extremely aggressive diplomatic program. The British government actually seemed to be supporting the idea of handing them over preferring to promote good relations with Argentina who was a major trade partner in the region over retaining the windswept islands that seemed to have little strategic or economic importance anymore.

DC-4 Condor 3The island’s population however had other ideas and lobbied the British government to retain the islands. The islanders had tended to their land for generations and weren’t just about to give it up because Whitehall said so. As political support for the islanders grew in the UK the government was forced to accept the islanders’ wishes. It became such a sore subject that when the England football team beat Argentina during the World Cup that year Argentine television claimed that first the English had stolen the Malvinas and now they had stolen their World Cup aspirations. This prompted the metal workers and Cabo to take action and to do that they needed a plane to get to the islands.

As the DC-4 approached the islands the pilots were becoming increasingly concerned. They knew that there was no airfield on the islands (Stanley Airport was opened a few years later) with which they could land on but the hijackers/liberators had already thought of that and told the pilots to head for Stanley racecourse; the flattest and firmest terrain near the capital of the islands. The islanders’ sleepy lives were shattered by the drone of the aircraft as it swooped low over their homes with its landing gear down. The Argentine markings caused panic as they rightly believed that an invasion was taking place.

The islanders weren’t exactly defenceless. The Falkland Island Defence Force could trace its origins back to the Falklands Volunteers founded during the Crimean War in 1854 to protect against Russian warships. In 1966 it comprised of a handful of local volunteers and six full-time Royal Marines who provided training. They were lightly armed with rifles, pistols and shotguns and were no match for the well equipped Argentine military. Nevertheless the volunteers and the Marines mobilised supported by local residents who were determined that if their islands were to fall then they weren’t going down without a fight.

They marched on the racecourse where the aircraft had touched down digging a long trench in the grass as it’s wheels struggled to bring it to a stop. The Royal Marines immediately took command of the situation and decided to contain the Argentine “paratroopers” in their aircraft. What they saw however was anything but a highly trained military force. Instead they saw a rough looking, disorganized mob emerge from the aircraft and plant an Argentine flag in the racecourse. It would have almost seemed comical had it not been for the fact that before the aircraft could be secured the Argentinians captured three curious locals.

DC-4 Condor 2From here however their plan seemed to be collapsing around them. They realized that they were vastly outnumbered by the frightened locals lead by the competent Royal Marines who had them completely surrounded and any chance of fighting their way out would be almost impossible. However news of what was happening was already reaching back to the mainland and crowds gathered in the capital demanding that the Argentine military follow the hijackers/liberator’s lead.

Argentinian and British diplomats began a frantic round of negotiations as the scene on Stanley racecourse remained stagnant save for a few crude exchanges of words. The hours passed and the brutally cold night set in. The Royal Marines and the islanders seemed to receive a never-ending supply of warm food, drinks and clothes from a grateful population while the Argentinians shivered under the wings of the airliner. A Catholic priest was sent out to them and gave mass before convincing them to surrender 36 hours after the aircraft landed.

Over the next day the Argentinians were repatriated to face charges in Argentina. However only three of them would actually be prosecuted for the hijacking such was the popular support for their action. One of them was the journalist Dardo Cabo who was expecting to write the story of the liberation of the Malvinas. The incident not only failed to succeed but actually forced the British government to reinforce its position on the islands by increasing the permanent military presence there in the form of around 20 Royal Marines. The incident destroyed any political hope for the Argentinians gaining control of the islands but the will remained.

Thus the scene was set for the 1982 invasion.

The story was all but forgotten about until the current Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in her seemingly ceaseless efforts to rouse her country in to a blind frenzy over the islands, put the flag carried by the Argentinians on display to celebrate the incident. Furthermore she gave all the surviving members extremely generous pensions claiming them to be heroes despite the fact that they hijacked an Argentine airliner.