In a recent incident, where the pilots of an Embraer 190 lost control and started flying erraticly in Portugal, two fighter jets started escorting the troubled plane after the emergency was declared.

Why did they escort it if it wasn't a security/military threat? What could they have done or how did they help?

  • I'm not sure this is the answer, but they are trained in close-quarter maneuvering and can provide real-time assistance to the pilots in case they had to put down somewhere other than an airport. – Ron Beyer Nov 13 at 23:34
  • Certainly a situation where, if the plane were out of control and headed for a densely populated area, a decision would have to be made, especially post 9/11 incident. If they were able to communicate with the stricken aircraft, help as far as airspeed, direction and visual inspection of damage would be helpful. – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 14 at 0:20
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    Related, although the reason is a bit different – Pondlife Nov 14 at 0:44
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's not a common thing, as aircraft have technical problems every day without a jet escort. Generally only extraordinary circumstances would merit it.

In this case, the pilots were struggling with an uncontrollable aircraft as well as difficulty navigating - there was lots of bad weather about, and they repeatedly asked for directions to the ocean to ditch, indicating that they didn't know where west was. The jets were scrambled and were available to help the pilots navigate through the bad weather and towards a safe airfield (I don't know if the navigation systems were malfunctioning or if the crew were just understandably overloaded). Fortunately the pilots were able to get the aircraft under some control, I think before the jets even did anything (but more information might come out soon).

Fighter jets can also help check for damage - being better trained and more maneuverable that a civilian craft allows a closer inspection. An underrated benefit is by just being up there with them, panicked pilots can calm down and focus on the task at hand.

Finally there is the horrible option of shooting the jet down if it has been hijacked. This would absolutely be a last resort though, and it's possible that these fighters weren't even carrying weapons.

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    and the jets can help clear the airspace around the aircraft in trouble by blocking other aircraft from getting too close that may have failed to be appraised of the situation by ATC (yes, you VFR pilots out there that failed to listen in on the appropriate ATC frequencies, I'm talking about you). – jwenting Nov 14 at 4:54
  • Pure speculation (on my part), but I think you're right on the money with the comfort of knowing "sombody's out there". Even though you know there's nothing they can actually do for you, having another plane/person there is often very settling. – FreeMan Nov 15 at 12:30

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