In the event of a hijacked airliner threatening loss of life on a major scale over a German city, the government will authorize jet fighters to bring the plane down, coalition officials agreed on Wednesday.
Air force attack jets could receive orders to take down hijacked passenger planes
After months of heated discussions and deliberations, Germany’s ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens reached agreement on Wednesday on the issue of deadly force in the event of the hijacking of a commercial airliner by terrorists.
Politicians from the country’s governing parties agreed that planes commandeered by terrorists in its airspace can be shot down to avert a disaster once Defense Minister Peter Struck gives the order.
Deadly force as last resort
The coalition agreed that downing a plane would remain a last resort and only be pursued after other options, such as trying to force a landing or firing warning shots, had been exhausted.
"Weapons may only be used in cases in which nothing else works and it is clear that the plane will be used against people," said Volker Beck, a leading member of the Green party. "The appropriateness of the means is the key criteria," he added.
CDU wants constitutional change
The decision opens the way for the development of a new draft of the air security law which will eventually be put before parliament. The final draft may face stiff opposition from the Christian Democratic Union which disagrees with the coalition’s view that no constitutional amendment would be necessary for the new rules to become law.
The conservative opposition party says that the existing laws only cover military operations in Germany in cases of natural disasters and major accidents. It argues that a change in the constitution would be required for the air force to act in circumstances such as a terrorist threat.
Lack of resources
Conservative defense experts also doubt whether the law can be put into practice effectively. They claim that the country’s airspace surveillance network is not up-to-date and that budget cuts and a reduction in fighter squadrons may leave highly populated areas exposed in the event of a well-coordinated attack using multiple aircraft.
The decision on deadly force comes almost a year after German interior minister Otto Schily and Struck agreed on a series of measures to increase flight safety within the framework of Germany’s anti-terror legislation, which was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Next step in anti-terror legislation
The first measures in the legislation included the use of armed air marshals on certain routes as well as increased protection of cockpit cabins, such as sealing off cabin doors during flights.
The need for further steps became clear in January of this year when a German student stole a small private plane from Frankfurt’s main airport. He then circled the city and threatened to crash the plane into one of the city’s high-rise buildings.