Possible to Steal a Widebody Jet

Ok, obviously inspired by recent events.

I want to state right up front that I don’t think this is what happened.

Is it possbile that a pilot or crew, once sufficiently out of range, could turn off the transponders and divert to a runway somewhere and essentialy steal the plane? Naturally i am talking abouut a large passenger jet. One would need a cooperating place to land, but i wonder how hard it would be to carve out a serviceable runway in some forgotten corner somewhere, or possibly repurpose an old military strip, Or maybe even a small cooperative airport in one of the lawless parts of the world.

It would fit with the facts we have. No sign of trouble, sudden change of course, and no sign of a crash.

I would love to hear about plausability and any speculation on how it might be done.

ETA: sorry for the punctuation errors. I hate typing on a tablet, and I find trying to move the cursor around to fix errors infuriating.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 was hijacked by the co-pilot less than a month ago. So yes, it’s possible, but in that case, everyone knew where the plane was at all times.

Sorry, i should have been more clear. Naturally a hijacking is a theft, but I was thinking of a theft where nobody knows what happened, or if they figure it out they don’t know where it went. More like the stolen car that just disappears from the mall lot.

Finding a place to fly a huge airplane under radar for any distance is going to be tricky.

If you wait until it reaches any altitude, you are going to be seen descending - and, I guarantee you somebody will be concerned when it descends to an altitude that low, and, if that somebody includes a government of any size, you will have an escort you can’t out-run.

On the other hand, those planes do not use ignition keys. If you know how to fly one, you just need to get aboard when it is fueled and ready to go.

Where do the Saudi royal family members keep their planes?

Also: go for a freighter - nobody misses a loved one, and you don’t have to kill 300 or so people before they kill you.

There was a TV program years ago interviewing a fellow who, purportedly, made his living by repossessing heavy jets - so there is at least some cover for stealing a plane - tell ATC that the owner is behind on his payments, and you’re stealing it on behalf if its (now rightful) owner.

Good luck with that one.

There’s plenty of places over oceans where I suppose it’d be easy to loose altitude and then change course unnoticed. And there’s probably a way to change the transponder identification so controllers will see it as a different flight.

They’d have to figure out what to do with all that extraneous baggage, commonly called “passengers”. They could toss them overboard. Or, upon landing, sell them into slavery.

The theft idea momentarily occured to me :- but once you’ve stolen it, what do you do with t ?

Who’s going to buy it ? Where’s it supposed to have come from ? You can’t credibly swap it’s tags for a written off 777. How do you maintain it ? Even stripping it for parts is problematic :- commerical airliner components are tracked and monitored, mostly to watch for fakes, and it’s highly illegal to sell illicit ones.

Hold the plane and cargo for ransom. Works for the Somali pirates.


Even assuming you can get it to an airstrip unnoticed, you’re going to have to hide it pretty quickly if you want to actually steal it. A 777 shows up pretty well from the air, or from spy satellites. Better get ripping down those palm leaves fast!

Then of course, you’ll have problems using it. It’s not like stealing a car where you can give it a respray and bung on new plates. Aircraft of that size tend to be pretty well accounted for, and if you suddenly acquire a new one people are going to talk.

“What, this old thing? Craigslist…”

All the better to establish your bona fides if you’re holding it for ransom.

A 727 was stolen off a runway in Angola circa 2003. Neither the plane nor it’s new owner have been seen again, and I think the general consensus is that it probably crashed.

What if you had a cooperating government? Like North Korea. Maybe Kim Jong Whoever wanted a nice state-of-the-art airliner. So you turn off the transponders, and fly low along a path over the ocean, far enough from China that they don’t get nervous.

What’s a 777’s value for scrap?

And what junkyard will take a 777 without insisting on seeing some identification? :confused:

Bet I know a couple over here.

I’ll stop by tomorrow with the pink-slip if you’ll just pay me now.

I would think when you add up the local neighbourhood - Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, India, not to mention China and Taiwan, the Phillipines, etc. they may not be NATO, but there is no shortage of moderately tense military ready to defend their country, and always on the alert with radars running. They aren’t that primitive. I’d be very surprised they can’t notice a 777 meandering through their airspace unauthorized. Those things are quite large and not exactly stealth technology. Even if it went by unchallenged, they must have the recordings to revisit the situation once the news came out.

“But if we release what we know, our enemies will know our capabilities.” “Yes. Let us wait for our enemy to report it, so we can know how capable their systems are.”

How many un-manned airports have runways capable of handling a 777? I guess if you had the range you could land it on the salt flats in the US or Australia…