by Hugh Morris, The Daily Telegraph, November 9, 2016
Police in Australia have launched an investigation after a hoax caller pretending to be an air traffic controller made false transmissions to a pilot, forcing the aircraft to abort its landing.
The Virgin Australia flight was about 80 metres from the runway at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport when it received instruction from an anonymous, unauthorised person transmitting from an unknown location, causing the pilot to pull up and change course.
The incident on October 27 is just one of 15 such illegal broadcasts made over a two-week period at Melbourne’s two airports, according to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
It is believed a portable radio is being used to tap into the air traffic control frequency and interfere with communications between pilots and the tower. Police said, however, that there is not a continuing threat to safety. No arrests have been made.
Later on the same day, a hoax caller impersonated the pilot of a light aircraft and issued a false mayday call, citing engine trouble.
Australian news outlet ABC obtained a recording of the conversation with the control tower, in which the hoaxer says: “Engine failure. Descending passing through 4500.”
The operator then realises the transmission is fake and tells all pilots in the area to ignore the call.
John Lyons, president of the Virgin Independent Pilot Association (VIPA), told ABC: “It’s a huge concern. Flight safety is a paramount concern to everyone and if there’s an unauthorised person making illegal transmissions around an airport that could create confusion and subsequently a safety incident.
“I mean if an aircraft is instructed to ‘go round’, if a pilot hears the instruction, he has no choice but to follow that instruction.”
Mr Lyons said that such hoax calls, though rare, should be taken very seriously.
The AFP’s head of crime operations Chris Sheehan issued a call for the public to help find the offender.
“The airlines have been briefed to ensure the advice has been passed on to their pilots and to ensure appropriate measures are in place,” he added.
Director of flying operations at the University of New South Wales Brian Horton told the BBC that such hoax calls do not require sophisticated equipment but that it had “never been a problem up until now”.
A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said there was no record of such hoax calls having been made in the UK.
Virgin Australia has been contacted for comment.
This article was written by Hugh Morris from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.