"We have had armed agents aboard our aircraft since 1970 and the experience has been extremely positive, despite the budget constraints it places on us," its president and chief executive officer, Samir Majali, told AFP. 

"Commercially, it is expensive, and it is also risky since there is always concern over a gun battle in mid-air, but in general the practice is a good way to deal with hijackers," he said. 

Washington recently issued an emergency directive asking all foreign carriers to place armed "sky marshals" on flights deemed by US officials to be at risk, sparking criticism from international aviation authorities and pilots. 

Flying to the US

Pilots' unions around the world have notably bristled at the US request, but officials in several countries have said they will comply. 

Some Air France and British Airways flights to the United States were recently cancelled amid heightened security alerts of possible extremist attacks, but Royal Jordanian was able to continue its daily flights to the country without incident. 

"Our planes come from the Middle East and are considered high risk, but our security measures allow us to operate to the US without problem," Majali said. 

He did not want to add any more, saying that for the airline,
one of the first to face hijackings, it was "a bad omen to talk
about security." 

Turning point

"Commercially, it is expensive, and it is also risky since there
is always concern over a gun battle in mid-air, but in general the practice is a good way to deal with hijackers"

Samir Majali
CEO: Royal Jordanian

The turning point for Jordan came on 6 September 1970, as conflict was brewing between Jordan's army and Palestinian armed groups working out of the country. 

On that day, commandos from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked two planes carrying more than 300 people, one American and one Swiss, and forced them to land at a base near the northeastern city of Zarka. 

Three days later, a British DC-10 with 115 passengers aboard was also forced to land at the base, known as Dawson's Field. The PFLP demanded freedom for seven Palestinian fighters being held in European prisons and several others being held by Israel in exchange for the lives of the passengers. 

After another six days of tense negotiations, commandos
freed most of the passengers and blew up the aeroplanes. 

However, 40 of the passengers were taken to other parts of the country and held until they were exchanged on 30 September for the Palestinian prisoners. 

Placing agents

"The measure helped protect Jordanian airplanes against numerous attempts by Palestinian organizations which had declared war against Jordan during the 1970s"

Former senior Jordanian official

"Since that date, the late King Hussein, who said the hijackings were shameful to the Arab people, ordered armed agents be placed on the national carrier's flights," a former senior official recalled. 

"The measure helped protect Jordanian airplanes against numerous attempts by Palestinian organisations which had declared war against Jordan during the 1970s." 

The agents were in action as recently as last October, when they foiled an attempt by a Lebanese man to hijack a Royal Jordanian flight bound for Malaysia as it was about to land at Bangkok. 

And in July 2000, a Syrian hijacker armed with a pistol and a
grenade he had hidden in children's toys was shot and killed on a flight between Amman and Damascus. The flight landed without further incident.