Challenging scenario in Dutch airspace

July 16, 2021

Friday, July 16

a small Cessna flies over the Netherlands. The pilot does not respond to calls from air traffic control and the plane appears to be flying on a course towards Amsterdam. In the Air Operations Control Station (AOCS) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in Nieuw Milligen, the alarm is sounded and two F16 fighter planes take off to take a look. If the plane wants to commit a terrorist attack, they will stop it. Simultaneously, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) is informed.

At the same time, another small aircraft just north of the Wadden Islands switches off its ADS-B transmitter (this is mandatory tracking equipment). As a result, the aircraft can no longer be followed by civil air traffic control. However, the aircraft is still visible for Air Force radars. The AOCS personnel see that the plane deviates from its flight plan and initiate a descent. This behavior is typical of drugs smugglers who dump a package of drugs into the sea which is then picked up by accomplices in a boat and brought ashore. In the AOCS, the plane is followed on the radar and the Coast Guard is briefed to look at the place where the plane reached its lowest point. That is the most likely place where the drugs were thrown into the sea. In addition, the aviation police will be informed. They will question the pilot after landing at the airport.

And to make matters even more challenging in the AOCS, another report comes in about a possible attempt to hijack a Boeing 747 over the Netherlands. A passenger is banging on the door to the cockpit and demands access. This is also passed on directly to the NCTV. The two F16s, which were previously sent to the small Cessna on course to Amsterdam, have seen the pilot of the Cessna leaning forward over the control stick. It looks like he has become unwell. Since there is no longer an immediate threat, the two fighters are immediately forwarded to the 747 to see what is going on there, so that a possible terrorist attack with the aircraft can be prevented.

In the meantime, a warning is sent from the AOCS to the security region where the Cessna is heading. There, the emergency services are put on high alert. The smuggling plane switches its ADS-B back on and appears to be following the specified flight plan as if nothing had happened.

Is this a normal situation in the Dutch skies?

“No, fortunately that is not normal, and fortunately this did not really happen. These are three scenarios in a demonstration of the Air Power Information Hub at the AOCS in Nieuw Milligen. In a crisis situation, we see that all kinds of military and civilian parties have to share information quickly and effectively. That information must be readily available, reliable and accessible only to those who need it.” Mike Balm, our digital champion at the Digital Competence Centre, is responsible for the development of the Secured Sharing Platform together with TRT Delft. This platform is the pivotal point in coordinating critical moments in a multi-stakeholder environment.

. We showed how we can safely share information with civilian partners so that the police or a security region can take action quickly. Mike Balm

Mike: “As part of a National Technology Project, we gave this demo at the AOCS together with the Royal Netherlands Air Force and NLR. Other partners in this project are the NCTV, the Coast Guard, the Aviation Police and the Utrecht security region. We showed how we can safely share information with civilian partners so that the police or a security region can take action quickly. During this project, we developed a solution with Air Combat Control on how to securely share classified data with civilian, national partners. We are already in talks with the Air Force to make the Secured Sharing Platform available in the near future for better security of Dutch airspace.”