An F-18 fighter jet. SUR
F-18 fighter jet deployed to intercept passenger aircraft in Spanish airspace

F-18 fighter jet deployed to intercept passenger aircraft in Spanish airspace

Spain's defence forces scrambled the military combat jet when the plane's pilot failed to respond to initial radio contact

Josu García

Friday, 24 March 2023, 13:42


The Spanish government has only just confirmed that a F-18 jet was dispatched after a passenger plane "did not communicate or respond to calls" from the air traffic controllers while passing over the Basque Country and Navarra regions on 5 February. When the combat aircraft was deployed it broke the sound barrier above Llanada Alavesa.

In response to a written question from Jon Iñarritu of the EH Bildu pro-independence political coaltion, the response stated that once the pilot finally answered the radio the fighter jet returned to its base in Torrejón de Ardoz.

This type of military mission is fairly rare, but there have been several in Spain in recent times. The aim is to ensure safety and security and it is a procedure that has been in place since shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City on 11 September 2001.

With the code name 'alpha scramble' the aim is to identify when an aircraft is involved in a suspicious event in Spanish airspace, either due to the incursion of an unknown military aircraft or a civilian one, as in this case.

The pilot of the fighter jet tries to establish visual or radio contact with the suspicious aircraft. In the event that the intercepted aircraft could pose a security risk, the fighter pilots would be authorised to shoot it down.

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