Dangerous: Someone is Pretending to Be Air Traffic Control, Instructing Planes to Land

On October 27, Virgin Australia flight VA740 from Gold Coast to Melbourne was instructed to land by someone who wasn’t air traffic control

The plane came witin 275 feet of the runway before the real air traffic control called off the landing. The Virgin Australia 737 climbed to 3800 feet and made a go-round.

Later that same evening, the individual who faked being air traffic control contacted controllers pretending to be an aircraft on approach declaring an emergency.

After 20 seconds air traffic control realizes that the plane in question is fine, that the call isn’t legitimate.

This has reportedly been done 15 times over a two week period in Melbourne. It’s striking that this isn’t technically hard to do, apparently, but just not something that’s done other than in Die Hard 2.

After 26 years, it’s time to address this Bruce Willis movie theater plot.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’d seem, in an age of security, we can come up with a secure method for communications…

  2. @Robert
    I have a private pilot certificate, and anyone can buy a handheld radio for tower and ground communications. Such radios are a nice backup in case your (e.g. Cessna’s) radio fails, or if you want to use it on the ground before you start up your engine(s). Unfortunately some joker seems to have used one with bad intent over in Melbourne. Hopefully the perpetrator is found and prosecuted.

    Changing everyone over to encrypted radios would cost a fortune to airports, airlines and aircraft operators/pilots. Maybe every plane/pilot filing a flight plan could be given a set of (short) security codes that can be used/spoken when it’s necessary to validate the authenticity of an ATC instruction. Even doing that would be a huge pain to implement, but at least it shouldn’t cost too much money to incorporate.

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