KANSAS CITY STAR: Cockpit talk causes stir; Air controller sounds the alarm after pilot speaks about a business “hostile takeover.”
Any seasoned traveler knows that uttering the word “hijack” in a crowded airport is a bad idea.
Now here’s another tip, this one for any private pilot who is being monitored by air traffic control: Avoid using the phrase “hostile takeover.”
A Kansas City-based pilot flying a small private plane Monday evening learned that lesson when an air traffic controller talking with the pilot feared the plane had been taken over by a hostile party.
The pilot was flying a business plane from Oklahoma to Kansas City - a trip that the plane’s owner, physician Kenneth E. Mann, said he takes at least twice a week to provide treatment at several hospitals.
Mann had been dropped off in Oklahoma, and the pilot, who Mann said preferred to stay unnamed, was flying over Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma on his way back to the Kansas City area.
As a courtesy, the pilot informed the air traffic tower at the base that he was entering the base’s airspace.
When asked over the radio what his destination was, the pilot, a 10-year-plus veteran with commercial airlines and private industry, said he preferred not to say.
Mann said that under the circumstances the pilot was not required to give a destination.
“He didn’t say hijack. He was trying to explain why he didn’t have to give his destination,” Mann said.
“We work in a hostile business environment,” he said, and competitors could try to use such information to steal clients.
The pilot was speaking about a “hostile takeover” of a company, said Maj. Roger Yates of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department.
The air traffic controller frantically tried to verify what he had heard, but the pilot had turned off his radio, Yates said.
Mann said the pilot had switched to a general aviation channel.
Within moments, federal aviation authorities scrambled F-16s to intercept the plane just outside of Oklahoma City and escort it to the Clay County airport near Mosby.
Once on the ground, more than a dozen armed federal agents and tactical deputies from the Sheriff’s Department surrounded the plane.
The pilot, whose name was not released Tuesday, was taken into the airport terminal building and interviewed for two hours by federal authorities.
He was released after being questioned Monday night and faces no criminal charges, Lanza said.
Mann said that within less than an hour, FBI agents had tracked him as the owner of the plane and showed up on the doorstep of his home.
“It sort of freaked out my wife and kids,” he said.
But “mistakes happen, and in the times we live in after 9/11, it’s better to overreact than not react at all,” he said.
“It was an overreaction, but I was impressed by how people responded to a potential threat.”
Colin McKee, airport director, said the fixed-wing, single-engine Piper was too small to be part of a terrorist attack.
McKee said he was initially concerned about the pilot and what could have happened to a passenger.
FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said the episode turned out to be a misunderstanding and no real threats were posed.
“People should be very careful in this heightened state of security about comments they make regarding airplanes and air traffic,” Lanza said.