After asking a question about the recent diversion/pirating of the Ryanair flight in Belarus (that got closed, but has a nice answer), I got to wonder about how the pilot should have had behaved in that case (fictitious situation of a flight over Lithuania, Belarusian jets requesting it to fly back to Belarus).

What are the rules for a pilot of a civil plane when they are requested by a military plane (a fighter jet) to follow them, when the plane is from another country than the airspace?

I can understand that within an organization such as NATO, a Polish plane could fly over Germany to intercept a Singaporean plane (because of NATO agreements).

From the perspective of a civil airplane pilot - does it matter? In other words my questions are:

  • is the pilot expected to make a decision about whether to follow a military plane at all? (= if they see a plane that requests them to do something, should they follow the requests no matter what?)
  • is there any consideration of the airspace? (= should the pilot take into account the place they are above?)

I would like to highlight that I am interested in the rules on how a pilot must behave (and not acts of bravery or something like that).

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    $\begingroup$ The fighter may be armed. The civilian jet is not. If you refuse to follow signals, the fighter may decide to fire a burst of gunfire across your nose so that you understand the gravity of the situation. Or they may just shoot you. Or maybe the fighter is unarmed or not authorized to shoot you. Who wants to find out the hard way? $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2021 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with @WayneConrad -- don't argue with the guy who has a gun (missiles count as guns in this context). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @WayneConrad: This is clear, I was expecting however that there would be some regulations about how to behave when you are being accosted by a military plane. $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @WoJ ICAO says we must comply, period. Whether the interception was legal or not is something to figure out on the ground, not when an armed fighter is threatening to shoot you down. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @rclocher3: I was hoping that the sentence would have made it clear - from a purely "regulative" perspective (or, in other words, is it just tradition to follow the fighter jets because the ones who did not showed that this is not a good idea not to do so - or are there actual rules that say "a pilot MUST follow a fighter jet requests") $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


Under ICAO regulation, pilots of civil aircraft must comply with instructions when intercepted:

The pilot-in-command of a civil aircraft, when intercepted, shall comply with the Standards in Appendix 2, Sections 2 and 3, interpreting and responding to visual signals as specified in Appendix 1, Section 2.

(ICAO Annex 2 - Rules of the Air - 3.8.2 - emphasis mine)

Appendix 2 Sections 2 and 3 outline what should be done “immediately”

2.1 An aircraft which is intercepted by another aircraft shall immediately: …

(ICAO Annex 2 - Rules of the Air - Appendix 2, 2.1)

These actions include amongst others; following instructions from the intercepting aircraft; notifying the relevant ATSU; attempting to establish communications with the intercepting aircraft; and selecting Mode A 7700 if possible.

As far as I am aware, EASA, FAA and the majority of other regulatory or safety authorities do not vary much from ICAO - though there may be minor variations in the visual signals given by the intercepting aircraft.

For example, EASA Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 and FAA CFR § 91 concerning this seemingly restates similar information to that found in ICAO Annex 2. Furthermore, the UK CAA’s AIP, Transport Canada's Civil Aviation Directorate’s AIP and I expect many other NAAs, have no listed differences from ICAO concerning Interception of Aircraft.

From your question:

“is the pilot expected to make a decision about whether to follow a military plane at all?”

As explained above, probably not. By statute (and by common sense): obey the intercepting aircraft.

is there any consideration of the airspace?

Probably not. (Also, civil aviation flying over territory is more of an ICAO concern (United Nations) - not NATO)

  • $\begingroup$ If the intercept is illegal, you could expect the ATSU you notified to initiate the appropriate corrective action. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 13:26

What do rules have to do with your hypothetical situation? At that point the question is what a completely unarmed person, who is immediately responsible for the lives of other people (assuming there are passengers), should do when another person who clearly doesn't obey laws and has a deadly weapon demands something, and nobody else has the power to interfere.

It seems to me that the choices available to the civil pilot are to comply, to refuse, or to try some sort of trick. A rational person at that moment would be completely concentrated on survival for the aviator and passengers, and wouldn't be concerned about rules.

  • $\begingroup$ See @StephenS comment - this is the kind of rule I was looking for. Why do you say that the situation is hypotetical? $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ @WoJ, but rclocher didn’t actually quote any real rule. In fact, I interpreted the point in their answer as being that there aren’t rules for every situation in life, and that rational people need to decide the best course of action based on the situation. Your question even specifies that it is an “invalid request”. What “rule” would you follow if a mugger made an invalid request for your wallet? $\endgroup$ Commented May 27, 2021 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall: taking a closer example - if a plane is hijjacked and there is a regulation that forces the pilot to fly to the nearest airport in case of a hijacking no matter what (people being killed in the plane for instance) then they should land at the nearest airport. Same if the police stop you even if they should not - you stop because the rules say that when a police car asks you, you do it. My question was about the existence or not of such rules. StephenS mentioned ICAO but I did not find anything on their page. $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @WoJ, my point is that there is a difference between an actual forceful and illegal commandeering of a vessel and an “invalid request”. $\endgroup$ Commented May 27, 2021 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ A regulation doesn't force anyone to do anything @WoJ, it merely prescribes penalties for doing things that it says one shouldn't do, or not doing things that it says one should. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 15:30

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