Pakistan scrambled two F-16 fighter jets and intercepted a SpiceJet plane as the passenger aircraft was making its journey to Kabul last month after a goof-up by the Indian aviation regulator, which assigned it an electronic code of a military aircraft.
The safety of the plane and 120 passengers onboard were put in jeopardy on September 23 as the plane was visible to Pakistan radars as an Indian Air Force aircraft, when the memory of Indian airstrikes in Pakistan’s Balakot in March was still fresh. Following this, two F-16s intercepted the plane to verify its identity, said an official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
A mode-S transponder is an electronic address which is unique to a country and each plane. An official explained that these are assigned under different categories — IAF, civilian aircraft and AAI’s ground equipment.
The SpiceJet pilots were then told to “hold the plane” in the sky as the F-16s continued to flank it on both sides. After confirming that it was a harmless, civilian plane on a scheduled flight from New Delhi to Kabul, Pakistan Air Force jets escorted it to the Afghanistan border to allow it to complete its journey.
The drama unfolded seven months after IAF carried out strikes inside Pakistan territory in Balakot to eliminate Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps following an attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. A day after the attack, PAF jets targeted Indian military installations along the border but were thwarted by the IAF following an aerial dogfight.
Military aircraft carrying VIPs have to submit their flight path and seek prior permission for each flight when flying through another country, while commercial airlines file their six monthly schedule with the aviation regulator.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation suspended a DGCA official following the incident. It is reliably learnt that the entire process of assigning Mode-S transponders to aircraft, which was a manual one, has now been computerised to avoid human errors.