COMMENTARY: The Importance of Rational Protocols for the Carriage of Handguns on Commercial Flights.
After the shock of Pan Am flt.103 exploding over Lockerbee, Scotland in 1988, the United States was put on notice that Islamic terrorism had declared war on America, and that commercial aviation was its leading target. In the aftermath of this horrific slaughter, in which all 269 aboard a Boeing 747, mostly American college students on their way to New York’s Kennedy Airport from London’s Heathrow were killed in the sky at 30,000 ft. and debris from the airliner was spread over the little village of Lockerbie claiming 11 residents in their beds and raising the death toll to 270 victims, murdered by Libyan terrorists. This attack was followed by a torrent of promises from the United States and elsewhere that the perpetrators would pay for their crimes and that long promised improvements in commercial aviation security would be put in place to protect airports, airliners and the public from future acts of this kind.
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.
For many years the federal government left the job of securing domestic aviation to an FAA that perceived a conflict of interest in their role of supporting commercial aviation with their duty to secure it. They viewed having to restrict the movements of their client airlines and their passengers too difficult a balancing act for it to manage. To solve the problem, the FAA passed along the security responsibility to the nation’s airport authorities and operators who similarly found it to be an onerous burden they were unwilling to accept. The airport operators in their role of property managers and landlords did what landlords are wont to do with responsibilities that are too burdensome; they passed the security role on to their tenant airlines as a condition of their leases. The tenant airlines wanting nothing to do with a duty that was sure to interfere with their need to quickly board passengers, load baggage and take-off on time, sought and found the least expensive and least intrusive way to fulfill their security duty under their leases, they contracted the responsibility to the lowest bidder. 9/11 brought this charade to an end when the federal government that created it suddenly insisted that it would accept its responsibility for security over an industry that it had regulated in the first place.
The new leadership of the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is reassessing its rules regarding the screening of passengers in the nation’s airports. After its dogged insistence since 9/11 that objects with points or sharp edges (regardless of size) were a threat to aviation security, the TSA is now considering reversing itself, and recognizing that the mountain of pen knives and scissors it has confiscated were never really a hijacking threat. Even more astonishing is a plan to allow thousands of air travelers with the right employment pedigrees to pass onto to airliners with no screening at all as way to reduce screening costs and speed up the boarding process.