Photo: Inspector Clouseau, from "Return of the Pink Panther."
Unless you are a commercial operator flying internationally, there probably isn't anything requiring you have a plan for dealing with a bomb threat on your airplane, but it might not hurt to have one. At the very least, you should know where the best place to move a bomb to is, the location in the aircraft that will cause the least structural damage. Hopefully your manufacturer has done this thinking for you and you know where to find the information when you need it. If not, the Gulfstream plan shown below may give you a few ideas on the subject.
There are services available to you with a call to most air traffic control centers. If you find a bomb on the aircraft it would be nice to know if you can actually throw the thing overboard without it taking an engine out. Think these things through ahead of time so you don't have to operate on instinct alone. More about this: Clouseau's Instinct.
What follows are quotes from the references listed below, with my comments and techniques shown in blue.
ICAO (Commercial Aircraft)
[ICAO Annex 6, Part 1, ¶13.3] An operator shall ensure that there is on board a checklist of the procedures to be followed in searching for a bomb in case of suspected sabotage and for inspecting aeroplanes for concealed weapons, explosives or other dangerous devices when a well-founded suspicion exists that the aeroplane may be the object of an act of unlawful interference. The checklist shall be supported by guidance on the appropriate course of action to be taken should a bomb or suspicious object be found and information on the least-risk bomb location specific to the aeroplane.
The requirement for the bomb checklist does not appear in the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) Inspection Checklist but that doesn't mean they can't ask you for it. If you are a commercial operator you need to have one and you need to know where to find it.
Air Traffic Control Actions
[Air Traffic Organization Policy, ¶5-2-15]
- 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:
- Advise the pilot of the threat.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Obtain and relay clearance to a new destination, if requested.
- 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.
When a bomb threat involves an aircraft on the ground and you are in contact with the suspect aircraft, take the following actions in addition to those discussed in the preceding paragraphs which may be appropriate:
- Type, series, and model of the aircraft.
- Precise location/description of the bomb device, if known.
- Other details which may be pertinent.
If you are unable to inform the suspect aircraft of a bomb threat or if you lose contact with the aircraft, advise your supervisor to contact the DEN ATSC for relay of pertinent details to other sectors or facilities, as deemed necessary.
When a pilot reports the discovery of a bomb or suspected bomb on an aircraft, determine the pilot's intentions and comply with his/her requests insofar as possible. Take all the actions discussed in the preceding paragraphs which may be appropriate under the existing circumstances.
The handling of aircraft when a hijacker has or is suspected of having a bomb requires special considerations. Be responsive to the pilot's requests and notify supervisory personnel. Apply hijacking procedures in accordance with FAA Order JO 7610.4, Special Operations, Chapter 7, and if needed, offer assistance to the pilot according to the preceding paragraphs.
- If the pilot ignores the threat, recommend that takeoff be delayed until the pilot or aircraft operator establishes that a bomb is not aboard.
- Advise the aircraft to remain as far away from other aircraft and facilities as possible, to clear the runway, if appropriate, and to taxi to an isolated or designated search area. When it is impractical or if the pilot takes an alternative action, such as parking and off loading immediately, advise other aircraft to remain clear of the suspect aircraft by at least 100 yards, if able.
NOTE − Passenger deplaning may be of paramount importance and must be considered before the aircraft is parked or moved away from the service areas. The decision to use ramp facilities rests with the pilot, aircraft operator, and/or airport manager.
FAA K-9 Explosives Detection Team Program
[Aeronautical Information Manual, ¶6-2-5]
- The FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security Operations manages the FAA K−9 Explosives Detection Team Program which was established in 1972. Through a unique agreement with law enforcement agencies and airport authorities, the FAA has strategically placed FAA−certified K−9 teams (a team is one handler and one dog) at airports throughout the country. If a bomb threat is received while an aircraft is in flight, the aircraft can be directed to an airport with this capability. The FAA provides initial and refresher training for all handlers, provides single purpose explosive detector dogs, and requires that each team is annually evaluated in five areas for FAA certification: aircraft (widebody and narrowbody), vehicles, terminal, freight (cargo), and luggage. If you desire this service, notify your company or an FAA air traffic control facility.
- The following list shows the locations of current FAA K−9 teams:
If due to weather or other considerations an aircraft with a suspected hidden explosive problem were to land or intended to land at an airport other than those listed in b above, it is recommended that they call the FAA's Washington Operations Center (telephone 202−267−3333, if appropriate) or have an air traffic facility with which you can communicate contact the above center requesting assistance.
- ATL - Atlanta, Georgia
- BHM - Birmingham, Alabama
- BOS - Boston, Massachusetts
- BUF - Buffalo, New York
- CLT - Charlotte, North Carolina
- ORD - Chicago, Illinois
- CVG - Cincinnati, Ohio
- DFW - Dallas, Texas
- DEN - Denver, Colorado
- DTW - Detroit, Michigan
- IAH - Houston, Texas
- JAX - Jacksonville, Florida
- MCI - Kansas City, Missouri
- LAX - Los Angeles, California
- MEM- Memphis, Tennessee
- MIA - Miami, Florida
- MKE - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- MSY - New Orleans, Louisiana
- MCO - Orlando, Florida
- PHX - Phoenix, Arizona
- PIT - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- PDX - Portland, Oregon
- SLC- Salt Lake City, Utah
- SFO - San Francisco, California
- SJU - San Juan, Puerto Rico
- SEA- Seattle, Washington
- STL - St. Louis, Missouri
- TUS - Tucson, Arizona
- TUL - Tulsa, Oklahoma
Example Aircraft Procedures (G450)
[Gulfstream OIS-01, §3]
Mitigation of Potentially Explosive Devices
- Move the device to the airplane's right forward cabin window.
- If possible, attempt to secure the device as close to the window as possible, using tape or any other means available.
- Remove any portable oxygen, or other equipment that could become a projectile, away from the area.
- Cover the device with cushioning materials including but not limited to clothing, cushions, followed by dry and wet blankets.
- Move all passengers to the rear of the airplane and ensure their seat belts are securely fastened.
- Descend to as low an altitude as practical.
- Depressurize the airplane as soon as possible after descent.
- Notify ATC and request assistance from appropriate agency.
Consideration should be given to the possibility of throwing the device overboard through the baggage door. If the crew decides to do this, the airplane should be flown to an area that is sparsely populated and:
- Descend to 2,000 ft AGL or lower.
- Verify that the airplane is depressurized.
- Extend the flaps to 20 degrees.
- Move the device to the baggage compartment.
- Slow to 150 KCAS.
- Open the baggage door.
- Throw the device out using a strong downward and aft motion.
Once the device is overboard, return the airplane to the normal configuration and either continue to the original destination or divert to the nearest suitable airport and report the event to the authorities.
There are versions of Gulfstreams designed for dropping things from the baggage compartment so this appears to be a safe strategy. An over wing hatch risks the bomb being ingested by an engine or striking the tail. You should know what the correct strategy for your aircraft is.
Aeronautical Information Manual
Air Traffic Organization Policy Order JO 7110.10X, April 3, 2014, U.S. Department of Transportation
Gulfstream Operational Information Supplement for GII through G550 Airplanes, GAC-OIS-01: Mitigation of Potentially Explosive Devices, Basic issue, March 15, 2005
ICAO Annex 6 - Operation of Aircraft - Part 1 Commercial Aircraft, International Standards and Recommended Practices, Annex 6 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, Part I, July 2010