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.
With terrorist explosions taking place around the globe on a daily basis, anyone who has not considered what steps to take to protect themselves and others from injury or death in a terrorist attack needs to do so — now! It’s become apparent that, despite the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement, the military, and the intelligence communities from the Russian Steppe to Bali, Islamic terrorism has the world in its icy grip and is able to reach out at will to slaughter the innocent, leaving behind chaos and terror. Each day, the morning news delivers another tale about the injury and death of ordinary people, whose lives were taken in an unexpected blast detonated by terrorists. For those of us who are the targets of terrorist rage, the time to act to defend ourselves is now.
The plan to subject air travelers to the indignity of having their uncovered bodies peered at by airport screeners in the quest to find explosives hidden away under clothing is nothing short of insanity. The ACLU’s concern that this intrusion into the privacy of air travelers — the use of “backscatter” x-ray machines that can see through clothing — will spread to other institutions such as public schools misses the point: There are better ways to search for bombs and weapons.
Despite the many new rules affecting how passengers fly in commercial aviation these days, I still love to fly. I will never get over the fact that if I can afford the price of the airline ticket, there is almost no place on this planet that I cannot reach within a day or two. My daughter is a graduate student in New Zealand, my son is graduating from law school next week in Oregon, and with a little patience I can be with them, and they with me, when the occasion calls for it. I am an unabashed fan of the Wright Brothers, for they have provided me access to a world that, as child growing up in the Bronx in 1940s and 50s, I could only dream of visiting. While at times I am as frustrated and outraged as any traveler over the new security conditions imposed us in a world preoccupied with terrorism, I never consider not traveling because of it.
Few, if any, have been more critical of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) performance in creating and operating a security program for the nation’s 429 commercial airports — and for its timid leadership in enforcing a similar plan for the 19 thousand general aviation airfields across America — than I. Created in haste in an effort to restore the confidence of the traveling public in the security of commercial aviation after 9/11, the TSA stands as a testament to the hubris of government in believing that decades of neglect of commercial aviation security could be fixed simply by willing it so. Now that it appears that the departure of Admiral Stone as the TSA’s head will bring with it a reduction in the TSA’s role in aviation security, we must ask what future mischief is in store for commercial aviation.