Airline Terrorism


Airline Terrorism Essay, Research Paper

Whether we would like to admit it or not, aircraft terrorism is a very real and deadly subject. Inside nothing more than a small suitcase, a carefully assembled explosive can bring an ending to the lives of countless men, women, and children, with no preference or regard to age, sex, and religion. In a single moment and flash, families are torn apart as their loved ones become victims of terrorism.

As the airline price wars have continued to rage, the amount of fliers increase at phenomenal rates. The airports are filled to maximum capacity with people all interested in just surviving the long lines and finally finding relaxation in their aircraft seats with the help of a cold drink and pillow. Sadly, it has come to the point where one must consider if the passengers should be relaxing.

The half a billion passengers that rush through a terminal each year are completely unaware of how much trust they are putting in a small, antiquated machine that scans their luggage. Teams of employees working for the government have been successful in passing through metal detectors armed with knives, guns, and even a discharged hand grenade. Reports Doug Smith of USA Today: ?The fact that the people manning these machines and airport gates make less than someone at McDonald?s and usually are uneducated average Dicks or Janes, may be part of the problem.? In most of England, the guards are expertly trained and receive high pay.

The issue of sabotage and criminal attacks on aircraft is one that is horrifying to contemplate. However, the potential is ever present and cannot be swept under some political carpet. The statistics as provided by the NTSB and FAA are ugly, and the results

of these accidents uglier still. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988 and another similar bombing on an Air India flight in June, 1985 are forever etched in our memories. Around 1,000 aircraft passengers have been killed in the past ten years due to terrorist bomb attacks on civilian aircraft (NTSB). If the yet to be solved TWA flight 800 mystery proves to be a victim as well, the number soars to over 1,300 (NTSB). The government is aware of the problems, but chooses to act after the fact, despite the countless warnings that precede a massacre given to them by safety experts in the aviation industry. One only needs look at current and past legislation that follows an occurrence.

?In the next ten years, I believe the likelihood is pretty good that there will be a bombing of a domestic flight. There are too many dissident groups in the world and too many nuts willing to do the unspeakable in order to get into the history books (McGuire).?

In the book that provides a consumer?s examination of airline safety, Collision Course, by Ralph Nader, numerous employees voicing the need for improved safety and terrorism countermeasures are quoted. What is so frightening is that examination of the quotations reveals that they are from the mouths of highly respected officials who find themselves tangled in the slow process of instituting new laws to protect travelers by increasing safety regulations.

There are two ways to significantly reduce the possibility of such calamities as aircraft bombings. Ideally, security checks would be sufficiently stringent to prevent any bombs from being smuggled on board the plane. Steps are being taken, with passengers

having to be matched to their luggage by photo identification prior to departure in the United States. Secondly, a modification of the aircraft should be considered. More specifically, the cargo and baggage holds (St. John). According to the study, Technology Against Terrorism: Structuring Security, by the U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (January 1992): ?Explosive devices of the size used in airline terrorist events to date are deadly not because they directly cause catastrophic failure (blow the airplane to pieces), but because they start a domino effect where the aircraft destroys itself.?

The low level and poor quality of airport and airline security measures mandated by the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) have left domestic flights dangerously vulnerable to criminal attacks. Properly applied bomb-resistant materials could save passenger lives in the event of an explosion in a plane while flying, or on the ground. The effort would also act as a deterrent to would-be criminals who most likely would give up their efforts upon learning their master-plans would amount to nothing, even if they beat the initial airport security screening. If this plan is tangible, the FAA must implement it and make it mandatory for all airlines to purchase and install these containers, just as they must force airports to install the successfully tested CTX-5000 scanners (Nader). Yes, these scanners do cost in the millions for each individual unit, but what price tag can one place on a human life? Unfortunately, the probability of these scanners seeing full service is close to nil. The FAA sides with the airlines in order to keep more passengers airborne, and in order to make more money. If the airlines don?t feel like paying for new technology, they obviously feel they can afford to pay the resulting fees and lawsuits

when a plane goes down. Director of San Francisco International Airport, Louis Turpen was angrily quoted in Aviation Week & Space Technology as saying: ?Our industry continues to react to aviation security needs in a dangerously piecemeal and fragmented fashion.?

Of all the airline safety issues, the threat of terrorism and sabotage might be the most emotional, and understandably so. The dictionary defines terrorism as ?the systematic use of violence ? such as bombing, killing, hostage taking, and hijacking ? to promote a political objective (One-look).?

In the article ?Hostage-taking and Terrorism,? in the May 1992 issue of Flight Safety Digest, it reads: ?We never know when or where this war (terrorism) will break out, but we must be prepared for it.? The current practice aforementioned of instituting laws only for the sake of easing the grief of families who just had their loved ones blown out of the sky is ridiculous. By assuming worst case scenarios while fixing these problems, every traveler and member of the travel industry will benefit from an added degree of safety. When a permanent solution is found for a problem before it occurs, won?t this keep it from ever being an issue? No one as of yet has complained of too much safety while traveling.

?Everyone within the system seems to want to do as little as absolutely necessary when it comes to aviation security (Pan Am victim).? The unsettling part about this comment is that throughout the course of history this has been the case. Without the institution of new security programs, the cyclical nature of these disasters will continue.

As mentioned previously, the airlines must follow certain FARs. What wasn?t mentioned was that they establish minimum safety standards beneath which the airlines cannot conduct business. So long as they meet these minimums, the airlines are deemed ?safe? by the FAA and the agency can?t compel the airlines to exceed FAR requirements (FAA). They need to. Meeting the minimums and doing only what is required of them isn?t enough. If it was, there wouldn?t be crashes such as the Pan Am, Air India, or possibly the TWA flight. A person who has just found out they lost their entire family in an air disaster is not interested in hearing how the airline managed to save a few dollars by reducing the security department.

While hurtling through the air in a thin aluminum tube, hundreds of people are innocent pawns in political wars. Terrorists have concurred that the easiest way to hurt a country is not to kill members of the military, but rather to kill civilians who never imagined the threat they were exposed to (Grayson). The president has been advised repeatedly, for example: ?The nation must act to deter and prevent the use of terrorism against civil aviation as a deadly tool of political policy. The Pan Am experience demands nothing less (McLaughlin).?

As a solution to terrorist attacks, many steps need to be taken towards the overall improvement of the airline security system, to deter terrorists and their bombs. The FAA needs to force foreign carriers to meet domestic standards. This will be met negatively at first, but it is for their own good. If they had adopted these standards in the past, perhaps they would not have such an alarmingly high sabotage rate when compared to the United

States based carriers (Simon). The FAA should establish a single minimum-security standard for all airlines operating under its governing areas. Thus, many loopholes and special privileges would be eliminated. Maintaining the freedom to increase security as the need arises will help place airports on alert levels. Improvements in metal and x-ray detection technology would take care of much of the second-guessing that produces those long waits nobody enjoys before boarding a plane. Because more than one billion pieces of luggage visit the belly of an airliner on a domestic flight yearly, it would be incredibly safer if we knew who they belonged to, for sure (Nader). The matching of passengers with luggage internationally and domestically is a worthwhile effort that is already proving itself.

Keeping the public informed of current activities and efforts would do wonders for the airline business. Passengers would be more than appreciative if informed that their selected airline is a potential target of a terrorist group. Recent investigations have shown that Washington received an anonymous letter before the Pan Am attack stating: ?Team of Palestinians not associated with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) intends to attack US targets in Europe. Time frame is present. Targets specified are Pan American airlines and US military bases (The Guardian).? Had passengers been made aware of a potential catastrophe, countless lives may have been saved. In the airline world, security is said to be spelled with a $. To remedy these explosive costs, why not place security measures under one federal office, use a trendy lease-to-own option with the security equipment, and make use of the seven billion dollars intended to be used for aviation safety issues that is instead being used to contribute to our horrific national debt.

When all is said and done, combating aircraft bombings and terrorism comes down to one issue: How badly do we desire this issue to be resolved, and what price are we willing to pay? Imperfections in this world have allowed for people to get away with far too much, and as long as they believe it is achievable, the massacres can continue. With a total commitment on our part and the aviation industry, this war against terrorism will be won. Friendly skies do not have to be an ideal. They can be a reality.


Sources cited throughout report


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