Inside the Fence


John InfangerBy John Infanger, Editorial Director

November/December 2001

As the aviation industry continues to deal with the events of September 11, its future remains jeopardized by inadequate security and a reluctance by some to accept the new reality.

A few observations ...
• Until the U.S. implements a system which demands 100 percent screening of all checked baggage going on airliners, the system remains in peril. No one — especially those who work in aviation — should find any other alternative acceptable.
People are again getting back onto airliners, but it will be very difficult to get them to fly again if an aircraft is blown out of the sky by a bomb placed in the belly. Long lines for security screening have the general public feeling that inconvenience equals security, but it’s all a facade if only the top half of the aircraft is secure. To those who say such a system is too expensive or unrealistic, we as an industry must say, hogwash. This is America; we have the resources.
• The airlines are only exacerbating the crisis by not responding to the demands of the current situation. At DIA, passengers — responding to the expectation that more time will be required to get to the gate — are showing up very early in the morning. Airline personnel, however, are not. At LAS, getting in a check-in line at 7:30 a.m. with some 90 other people was met with one United ticket agent to handle the load. Two agents were handling first class. It took a half hour before the one agent got help.
Meanwhile, at Kansas City International, check-in and screening were relatively simple. There, screeners are placed one for every two gates. What was once viewed as an unworkable airport design is actually workable in today’s environment. While that may not work at many (if not most) airports, it suggests that airport design will become a critical element in the future. (For more on design, see Ron Steinert’s comments on pages 34-35.)
• A high level association rep recently observed, "It will only take one Learjet being crashed into the U.S. Capitol to ground business aviation permanently." He may be right; yet, some — most notably, AOPA — say general aviation should be allowed to go back to activity as usual. We all know that the average aircraft owner is no more a threat to U.S. security than one of our grandmothers. But neither of those is what we need to protect against. Toward that end, NATA should be applauded for its formation of a business aviation security task force within days of the tragedy to get ahead of the terrorist threat, while also attempting to stay ahead of a reactive public and Congress.
• Meanwhile, in Illinois, the governor and Chicago mayor are closer to an agreement that calls for reconfiguring O’Hare’s runways to ease congestion, while leaving the option open of not closing Meigs Field. The governor’s proposal calls for recognizing that operations at O’Hare need to have a limit. Mayor Daley apparently needs to take a cross-country trip that connects at his airport on a stormy day before he’ll appreciate the chaos many passengers know all too well.
• Finally, one person who has been conspicuous by her absence since 9/11 is Administrator Jane Garvey. A D.C. insider suggests that the Republican Administration is nervous about having a loyal Democrat front and center. She is also in the final year of her term, making her somewhat of a lame duck. It is, it seems, one of the pitfalls of having a five-year term that overlaps Administrations. Too bad; aviation can use all the leadership it can get.
Thanks for reading.