Hoax caller changes course of Australian airplane and air traffic control services

Canberra, Nov 8 : Hoax calls made to pilots of Australian commercial passenger jets have forced at least one plane to abort landing as it approached an airport.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced on Tuesday it would investigate a series of 15 hoax calls made to aircraft and the Melbourne Air Traffic Services Centre in October, Xinhua news agency reported.

Unauthorised transmissions on non-public channels can carries a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.

In one of the 15 incidents, the pilots of Virgin Australia flight 740 from the Gold Coast to Melbourne on October 27 changed the plane’s altitude and course as it approached Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport under the instruction of the hoax caller, an unauthorised person broadcasting from an unknown location.

Data from FlightRadar 24 revealed that the plane came within 275 feet of the runway but three minutes later the plane had climbed back to 3,800 feet and then circled Melbourne’s northwest suburbs.

The AFP believe the person making the call was able to tap into the air traffic control frequency and communicate directly with planes and control towers.

“The AFP, Airservices, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the aviation industry are all committed to ensuring the safety of the travelling public and we are treating this matter extremely seriously,” the AFP said in a statement.

A recording acquired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from October 29 revealed that the same caller who disrupted the Virgin Australia flight later made a call to air traffic control pretending to be a pilot of a light aircraft issuing a mayday call over engine trouble.

“I can see you there now. Roger your mayday. Could you please advise what your situation is,” the air traffic controller asks.

“Engine failure – descending passing through 4,500,” the hoax caller replies.

Later the air traffic controller transmitted an announcement for pilots in the area to ignore the transmission which had been deemed malicious.