The sheer scale of the U.S. air transport system makes top-to-bottom security nearly impossible, according to Dave Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance. So the Transportation Security Agency’s focus, he says, should be on the biggest security holes instead of the most visible. And that means less emphasis on passenger screenings and more on airplanes parked overnight — unlocked — on the airport tarmac, where anyone can plant bombs in their holds. Blog Hot Air has Mackett’s whole disturbing manifesto:
At this moment, there are roughly 5000 commercial airliners in the skies above you. There will be 28,000 flights today, and 840,000 in the next month — every month. The U.S. fleet consists of some 6000 aircraft — almost all of which will be parked unattended tonight at a public airport. We will carry almost 7 billion passengers this year, the number increasing to 10 billion by 2010, barring an exogenous event like another 9/11.
There is simply no deployable technology that has a prayer of keeping a motivated, prepared terrorist out of the system every time — even most times. TSA misses more than 90% of detectable weapons at passenger checkpoints in their own tests, and it is not their fault, because of the limitations of technology and the number of inspections they must conduct. This doesn’t count several classes of completely undetectable weapons like composite knives and liquid explosives.
What is TSA’s fault is their abject failure to embrace more robust approaches than high visibility inspections, and their accommodations to the Air Transport Association’s revenue interests at the expense of true security, while largely ignoring the recommendations of the front-line airline crews and air marshals who have no direct revenue agenda and are much more familiar with airline operations than are the bureaucrats (remember government ignoring the front-line FBI agents who tried to warn them about 9/11?). Deplorable amounts of money have been wasted on incomprehensible security strategies, while KISS [Keep It Simple, Stupid] methods proven to work have been ignored.
Aircraft on the ramp are just one example of this.
Immediately after 9/11, the Administration deployed the National Guard to airport checkpoints to reassure the public, though the terrorists’ objective was not the checkpoint, but the aircraft. The Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA) called for putting National Guardsmen on airport ramps to monitor anyone around the aircraft, conduct random ID checks, and protect the aircraft from anyone putting suspicious cargo in the holds or cabin. We also called for 100% ground employee security screening, which, while flawed, provided some layer of prevention against minimum wage employees planting illicit weapons on commercial aircraft; we also called for behavioral profiling of passengers at security checkpoints.
None of this was done, and the aircraft on the ramp were “protected” only by vigilant employees who had other, more primary responsibilities. These aircraft were still freely accessible to many other employees who worked on the strength of a background check that said they hadn’t done anything yet.
Today, RON (remaining overnight) aircraft are invariably unattended and unlocked all night. Commercial aircraft typically do not have locks in their doors. They are protected by roving airport police patrols and closed circuit cameras. Neither methodology is very robust.