On the morning of Wednesday, February 2, 2005, a corporate aircraft ran off the runway at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey while it was attempting to take off. The initial reports indicated that the aircraft, a Challenger 600, had 12 passengers and a crew of two. The aircraft reportedly was at take-off speed but still on the ground when it ran out of runway, crashed through a fence, crossed a normally busy highway and came to rest with its nose nestled inside of a clothing warehouse. It appears that there were no fatalities on the ground or in the aircraft despite the terror ride that took two automobiles out of service, not to mention the aircraft itself, which burned vigorously in its resting place.
Recently, the nation was alarmed to learn that terrorists attempted to take down an El Al airliner with a shoulder-launched missile as it departed for Tel Aviv from Mombassa, Kenya. Members of Congress and the media immediately commenced a dialogue on the subject of how to prevent such an event from occurring here in the United States, and what action might be taken to prepare commercial aircraft to deter such attacks while in flight.
It was barely over one year ago that representatives of the General Accounting Office attended my workshop on the state of aviation security at an airport security conference held in San Francisco. In preparing for the workshop, an associate of mine and I spent some time with the commanding officer of the Port Authority police detachment at Kennedy Airport. The officer was more than generous with his time and help in bringing us up to speed on the state of airport security. A little more than a month later, he would be killed by terrorist airplane hijackers in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
I arrived at the terminal at Portland International Airport (PDX) recently at 5:00 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. departure for Kennedy Airport by way of Salt Lake City. Having an electronic ticket, a seat assignment, no baggage to check and my elite passenger card for the express lane to security, I figured I would have plenty of time for my flight. Despite the longest lines I have ever seen at PDX, I was at the gate at 5:25 AM. When I called my home in Portland that night, I learned that the lines at PDX that morning were even longer than usual for a Monday morning: The usual wait was up to an hour and a half to get through security. Most passengers flying out of Portland yesterday on the early morning fights had a very long day.
America is breathing a sigh of relief after coming through the July 4th weekend without the predicted terrorist calamity. Not all of us celebrated our nation’s birthday in peace, however — around the globe, our troops continue to risk their lives in various venues in an unconventional war against terrorism, and here at home, ordinary citizens were murdered by yet another Arab terrorist, this time in the Los Angeles Airport.
On February 25th of this year, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requested that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) designate John F. Kennedy International Airport as a pilot project under Section 108 of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (the section of the law signed by President Bush on November 19th of last year). The new law was passed primarily to replace the private-sector security work force employed by the airlines, whose history of failures reached its low point on September 11th, when 19 terrorists hijacked four airliners from two airports within an hour or so of each other. The pilot project requested for JFK — with the support of most of New York’s Congressional representatives and of both Senators — was rejected on June 19th by the TSA in favor of an award to the San Francisco International Airport, under circumstances that are, at best, shocking.