The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hijack in line of fire

New Delhi, Aug. 14: The government has adopted a policy that authorises the air force to shoot down a passenger plane suspected to be used as a suicide missile by hijackers.

The anti-hijacking policy, adopted by the cabinet committee on security at a meeting last week, was shaped from a set of proposals put up by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Safety. In essence, India’s attitude to hijackings will now reflect that of Western governments.

It has taken 9/11 to force the policy change in India three years after the planes crashed into the New York towers ' not the hijacking of the Indian Airlines’s IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999.

Post 9/11, most governments and airlines have changed their policy. But India’s continued to be a hangover from the pre-9/11 era of the aviation industry when most airlines asked pilots to comply with hijackers’ demands in the interest of passenger safety.

The new policy does not give carte blanche to the air force to shoot down any hijacked passenger plane, but only one that is suspected to be used by hijackers to target a sensitive establishment such as Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament and nuclear and military installations.

Indian Air Force fighters will scramble and escort, guide or try to forceland a hijacked aircraft. If the air force is convinced that the aircraft has veered from its course and is being used as a missile, a person holding the office of Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) or above can give the order to fire.

In the event of a hijacking, the action to be taken will be determined by the cabinet committee on security and when it cannot meet collectively by the Prime Minister or the home/defence minister.

Sources in the air force said new anti-hijacking drills were likely as soon as the guidelines were given to airport authorities, intelligence wings, National Security Guards, ATCs and airlines.

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