Essay, Research Paper: Airline Terrorism


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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

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