A number of highly respected sources usually turned to for creative thinking on issues of crime and terrorism were seen giving television interviews with a very disturbing “deer in the head lights” look I in their eyes. While I didn’t expect to hear too much creative thinking so soon after a terrorism attack of this magnitude, there was something new about the tone and content of the opinions being given. There was a focus on the failure of Belgium law enforcement to foresee these attacks and in time at least to limit their scope. Much of the critical commentary centered on the arrest last week of the sought after Paris attack terrorist, Salah Abdeslam.
Commercial aviation remains as safe as ever – or to put it another way, it was never really safe from intentional acts of sabotage, hijacking and in-flight violence; clearly not much has changed. The most recent report on airport security reveals that all manner of contraband continues to get through the eight billion dollar security program designed to prevent terrorists from striking our commercial aviation system.
With September 11th recently behind us, many Americans are still remembering the unthinkable events of that day. We who were here in New York City at the time have personal recollections that will likely haunt us for years to come. Many of us knew someone lost among the wreckage of the twin towers; I did not. I was among the many who benefited from a last minute change in plans that resulted in the postponement of a meeting that was scheduled for 9:00AM in the south tower that day; sadly, those with whom I was to meet weren’t as fortunate as I. At the time, I had been working on a series of commentaries related to aviation security in general and the impact of increasing terrorist incidents impacting on commercial aviation in particular. Just weeks before the 9/11 attack, I had delivered an address at an aviation security seminar in San Francisco at which I discussed the increased threat of a terrorist attack on commercial aviation. My audience of aviation professionals was cordial but skeptical; imagining an event such as occurred on 9/11 was still below the radar of our aviation community.
I don’t wish to make light of as serious a situation as a terrorist attack on another American commercial airliner, but if governments in the United States and the Netherlands are offering as a response to the failed terrorist bombing of a Detroit bound airliner the carting out and dusting off of “Back Scatter”, “Full Body Imaging” and “Puffer” technologies to thwart the introduction of bomb making compounds onto airliners, I might as well audition for Saturday Night Live along with them. There is more than one reason that machines that look through clothing for weapons, though available for several years, haven’t been used, and modesty is the other one! While great for revealing weapons stored away from plan view under a passenger’s garments, technologies that provide a visual look at what is being secreted away under (or sewn inside of) the underwear, don’t tell us that what is being viewed is an explosive. And while so called “puffer” and “sniffer” technologies are designed to tell specifically whether the explosive compound they are programmed to identify is present, unless it is being carried on the surface of that which is being examined, it too is of little help.
More than nine years after the world was stunned by the terrorist attack on the USA using airliners as flying missiles, terrorists still believe they can attack America by smuggling weapons of mass destruction aboard a U.S. airliner headed for the United States from abroad. They must be delusional to think that they can penetrate the western world’s impregnable aviation security shield, how ridiculous! Haven’t they heard the repeated assurances from members of both political parties about the stunning advances in security manpower, training and technology designed to keep terrorists and their weapons off of the worlds commercial airliners? Don’t they know that we have x-ray vision “back scatter” machines, designed to see through clothing to make sure no weapons or explosives are concealed in passenger’s underwear? Haven’t they seen the TSA’s budget dedicated to keeping airliners safe through zero tolerance security protocols? This can’t be happening after all that we have done! Well maybe it will be all right after all now that international passengers will be required to forego their final trip to the lavatory if nature calls with less than 60 minutes to go in the flight. That “no pee” requirement will certainly through a monkey wrench into any terrorist’s plans to detonate an in-flight explosive.
I had been asked by Fox to comment on a report by the Associated Press concerning a study conducted by NASA on commercial aviation safety. NASA, after spending $8.5 million interviewing more than 24 thousand commercial airline and general aviation pilots on issues of aviation safety, has refused to release the results of its investigation stating: “ . . . because it could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey.”