Airline Safety Remains Slack


WASHINGTON, D.C., September 19—Amazingly, the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees airplane safety, is taking steps to lessen—not increase—airport security since last week’s bombings. Paul Hudson, director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, points out: “Over the weekend the FAA lifted the ban on general aviation [private aircraft] except within 25 miles of New York City and Washington, D.C. With about 1 million private planes in the U.S. and little or no security in place, the risk of terrorists using such planes with explosives to attack large or government buildings requires temporary restrictions.” Hudson wants general aviation to be banned to within 100 miles of major cities or likely terrorist targets.

According to Mary Schiavo, the outspoken former FAA whistleblower, airlines need to enforce thorough background checks of airport workers: “The first thing that needs to be done before any amount of armament is that all areas of people in security, which is called the sterile area, must have a background check, have passed a secure position, and have current airport access credentials. And even after that all people going to work need to continue to have screenings, just as pilots do. Pilots go through screenings on their way to work, but the janitors don’t. There are access badges missing, catering access credentials missing, keys, security codes, you name it. Every time we did the investigation we had this problem.”

On September 17 the FAA lifted the ban on passenger airliners carrying unscreened mail and cargo. The ban had been instituted following the bombings last week. It was in place during the entire Gulf War and its aftermath (1990-91).

Here are what Hudson—whose 16 year-old daughter Melina was killed in the PamAm 103 crash—thinks are the rockbottom steps necessary to give us a little protection:

  • The FAA must quickly secure the cockpits of all airliners flying in US airspace. Temporarily this means armed guards or armed flight crews or cops.

  • Since carry-on baggage can contain weapons and current screening systems are not adequate, carry-ons should be banned outright or restricted to one small bag that can be hand-searched.

  • Passengers should help out by getting rid of their carry-on baggage by checking it at the ticket counter. “This will improve security and should also reduce delays and security wait time,” says Hudson.
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