Julian Bray writes: Having just completed an early morning live BBC World Service broadcast on the 800 employee strong stress testing of new passenger secure handling arrangements at Brussels Airport. (When it re-opens for business it will only see a 20 per cent throughput as large areas of the airport were and remain wrecked by the suicide bombers ); news comes in, courtesy of a CNN telephone call 'heads up', that an Egyptair domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo had been 'hijacked' on Tuesday by an man who threatened to blow himself up before demanding he was reunited with his estranged Cypriot ex wife.
However back in the UK by 08:30 BST, I had to be out of the door facing an 80+ mile road trip to London, from Cambridgeshire, and heading for a day of pre-arranged closed but vital meetings with legal counsel, the results of which will in due course, will hopefully assist us all in this business. Amazingly BBC5Live responded to my challenge that I'd give them a live contribution by ISDN circuit, if they could set it up in minutes and before 08:25. As did BBC Hereford and Worcester (45 seconds....) CNN was unlucky as the fixed slot offered was after my essential cut off point. I was heading for London.
For once listening to the drama unfold on the car radio was an unusual experience, the EgyptairAirbus now on the ground at Larnica, in Cyprus.
'Faker' Egyptian born Seif Eldin Mustafa was branded an "idiot" by the Egyptian foreign ministry after he seized control of the Alexandra-Cairo flight and had it diverted to Cyprus, where he issued a string of bizarre demands.
In addition to asking for a letter to be passed on to his Cypriot ex-wife, she was rushed to the airport by Cypriot police to meet her ex. Mustafa reportedly also called for the release of several female prisoners in Egypt, and asked for political asylum in Cyprus. But not before demanding passports collected and an element of segregation played out. Passengers expecting a short over land domestic hop must have been terrified as the Airbus gained height and headed over the sea to Cyprus.
My concern with all of this is not directed at the crew or ground staff at Alexandria Airport where Mustafa (according to cctv footage released) was body scanned, rubbed down and his baggage put through the x-ray, but my concern is the carping by some commentators that the Egyptair pilot had 'lost faith in Egyptair management' and 'deviated from protocols agreed after 9/11' which basically calls for a more robust approach to hijackers 'fake or real'.
Post 9/11 protocols suggest the hijacker should have been overpowered, possibly the crew inviting assistance from 'well- built passengers' handcuffed and possibly moved to an empty area of the cabin and secured to a seat by strapping or additional restraints. A 'no spit' cloth bag place possibly over the head of the suspect and secured.
My view, reinforced by the practical flight crew training I have witnessed over the years, is that the commander or captain of an aircraft is first and foremost in overall control, has sufficient professional 'coping' skills to read the situation and react accordingly.
The Commander has the post 9/11 protocols as guidance, not rigid edicts. There has to be flexibility in how the risk is managed. No one can ever guarantee 100% safety. All events these days carry an element of risk. Some more than others. Hence the importance of managing that risk.
His/her first priority is for the safety of the passengers and crew in his/her care, then removing them from the safely landed aircraft, to a place of safety (airport buses waiting) and facilitating local police / security forces to effect a 'cordon sanitaire' - usually placing an airport tug on the nose wheel, or in this case, the airport steps, locked onto the fuselage - board and take the hijacker into custody for legal process.
Simply although Mustafa only had a string of cellphone cases stitched together and wires protruding to simulate a fake explosives belt. The Commander (in my view) took the right approach and treated the fake belt as it were real, and as a full on on hijack, and acted accordingly.
It is not up to him or ground control to decide if the passenger was 'ill or even lovesick'. So any talk of the Captain or Commander not following the post9/11 protocols is misplaced. The Captain, crew and passengers will be debriefed and 'lessons learned'.
The unnamed Egyptair Captain deserves our thanks, No one was hurt, no shots fired, no explosives detonated, all eventually evacuated by steps not slides. And the 'hijacker' due for his day in Court. And as for the ex Mrs Mustafa? She didn't want to see him...
JULIAN BRAY +44(0)1733 345581 Aviation Expert, Journalist & Broadcaster, Aviation Security & Airline Operations Expert, Travel / Maritime & Cruise Industry, NUJ, EQUITY, LIVE ISDN LINK, Broadcast ISDN COOBE ++44 (0)1733 345020 e&oe Old faithful NOKIA: 07944 217476 www.aviationcomment.com