Metal Detector


Finding a “bomb on board”, whatever the nature or contents of the device, has the unique capability of striking a crew – a crew untrained in in-flight bomb threat management procedures – with almost paralysing fear. As a result, a particular emphasis on building crew background knowledge in this domain must be included in the training curriculum. An active Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or Chemical / Biological Weapon (CBW) on board the aircraft is a serious safety and security matter, however, the situation is similar to various other in-flight emergencies. When the crew has a checklist and a procedure to follow the likelihood of a successful conclusion to the emergency is considerably enhanced. The calming effect of knowledge, and therefore the positive influence on a crew’s performance in this situation, cannot be overemphasized. This knowledge will aid in the process of deliberate, mental control of the fear engendered by this threat and thereby facilitate the capability of the cabin crew to successfully hear, lead, direct and act. The aircraft should undergo an in-flight search 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. This is generally based upon a threat to the specific aircraft that is received while the aircraft is in flight.


On September 17, 2012, an anonimous caller phoned JFK airport claiming that explosives had been placed aboard flights AAL24 from San Francisco, and FIN5 from Helsinki. The pilots of the American Airlines Boeing 767 were never informed of the threat as they were instructed to taxi to a remote area at JFK for an inspection.

Listen to the audio file and think about the questions below

How would you describe the attitude of the AA24 Captain?  Do you agree with his attitude?

What would you have done in this situation?

Why do you think that the tower did not give the captain all of the information, and do you you think that they were correct not to do so?

Key Themes and Vocabulary

Anticipated Impact on Crew

A wide range of practical problems could arise following bomb warning:

  • Increased workload in the cockpit – Upon receiving a threat for an explosive device on board, the flight crew normally assesses the situation and depending on the stage of flight and whereabouts of the aircraft, the crew takes decision how to continue the flight.
  • Possible high level of stress – Although the flight crew can be expected to appear to remain calm, high levels of stress are normal and should be expected due to the nature of the contingency.
  • Possible communication problems – non standard RTF can be anticipated in the course of communications from the flight crew to ATC.
  • Decision for emergency evacuation – the flight crew will most likely take the decision for emergency evacuation on the runway immediately upon landing.
  • Least Risk Bomb Location – If a specific suspect package is identified on board an aircraft, the aircaft commander may decide that it should be moved to the designated least risk bomb location, usually next to an external door in the rear galley. Such a decision may or may not become known to ATC at the time but such an action should expect to be communicated prior to landing.
  • Increased Workload
    Aumento da Carga de Trabalho
  • Whereabouts
  • Non Standard RTF
    Fraseologia não Padrão
  • Suspect Package
    Pacote Suspeito
  • Rear Galley
    Galeria Traseira
  • Prior

Suggested Controller’s Actions

What to Expect

As a controller, one can expect that pilots who become aware of a bomb threat will request:

  • To stop climb and/or descend if the aircraft is climbing.
  • Immediate flight level (FL) re-clearance, usually to lower FL
  • Landing at the nearest suitable aerodrome
  • Information about such aerodromes such as runway in use, runway length, runway surface, aerodrome elevation and approach aids and frequencies.

Other unexpected requests may also be made as a result of co- ordination with other agencies.

A TWR/APP controller should expect the aircraft to be put into landing configuration earlier than usual and track miles should never be minimised unless this is expressly requested. Do not allow a missed approach to become necessary because of ATC reasons.

  • Aware
  • Expressly Requested
    Expressamente Solicitado
  • Missed Approach
    Aproximação Perdida

What to Provide

Best practice embedded in the ASSIST principle could be followed (A – Acknowledge; S – Separate, S – Silence; I – Inform, S – Support, T – Time):

  • A – acknowledge the bomb warning, ask for intentions and provide information regarding next suitable for landing aerodromes as necessary;
  • S – separate the aircraft and if necessary prioritise it for landing, allow long final if requested, keep the active runway clear of departures, arrivals and vehicles;
  • S – silence the non-urgent calls (as required) and use separate frequency where possible;
  • I – inform the supervisor and other sectors/units concerned; inform the airport emergency fire rescue services and all concerned parties according to local procedures; as tower controller expect airport authorities to execute their bomb threat emergency plan.
  • S – support the flight by providing any information requested and necessary such as type of approach, runway length and any additional aerodrome details, etc.
  • T – provide time for the crew to assess the situation, don’t press with non urgent matters.
  • Acknowledge
  • Warning
  • Suitable
  • Supervisor
  • Concerned
  • Press
    Continua (nisto contexto)


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