Aviation Security Continues to Evolve

The United States remains at risk from attack even though it may be

better prepared to fight a war on terrorism on the sixth anniversary of the

September 11, 2001 strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon using

hijacked commercial transports.

The warning comes after Al-Queda leader Osama bin Laden vowed to escalate

his 'holy war' against the United States in a new video. "While we have

successfully raised our barrier against terrorist attacks, the fact remains that

we are still a nation at risk," said Michael Chertoff, the head of the

Department of Homeland Security. "We continue to face a persistent threat to our

homeland over the next several years, confronting the terrorist threat xix years

after 9/11."

At least 2,749 people were killed when two jetliners slammed into the

World Trade Center and 184 people perished when American Airlines Flight 77 flew

into the Pentagon. The downing of United Airlines Flight 93 in a field took the

lives of 40 passengers and crew.

Much has transpired since Sept. 11, 2001. More armed Air Marshals now fly

on commercial flights and some pilots are packing pistols in cockpits behind

reinforced doors. Federal passenger screeners populate the nation's airport and

the federal government is exploring the means to protect airliners from

shoulder-launched heat seeking missiles.

But additional measures are contemplated, including a proposed regulation

requiring general aviation aircraft entering the United States to provide

comprehensive passenger manifest information to U.S. authorities prior to

departure. "This will help us prevent private aircraft from being used to bring

potentially dangerous people or weapons into the United States," said Chertoff.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Advanced Information on Private

Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States, released on Sept. 11, will

require more detailed information about arriving and departing private aircraft

and persons onboard.

The NPRM will require pilots of private aircraft to provide to the U.S.

Government complete passenger and crew manifest data and aircraft information to

foster aircraft identification, tracking and communication, one hour prior to

departure to and from the United States, giving Customs agents time to check

names against terrorist watch lists.

DHS is considering a phased approach to implement the proposed security

measures on general aviation. Under Phase I, DHS will publish the NPRM to elicit

public comments prior to issuance of a final rule and implementation of the new

requirements. Under Phase II, DHS will develop methods and processes to address

"additional security vulnerabilities" for international private aircraft

operations at their last point of departure prior to entering U.S. airspace.

The pending rule regarding general aviation is similar to one recently

announced to cover commercial flights. The Bush Administration proposed a new

version of its program to screen airline passengers that avoids privacy concerns

and has finalized a rule that require air carriers operating international

flights to send federal security authorities passenger data before planes take

off rather than afterward, as is now the case. DHS said the measures will

strengthen aviation security through uniform and consistent passenger

prescreening against government watch lists.

DHS published two regulations that will initiate these changes: the

Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) Predeparture Final Rule, which

enables DHS to collect manifest information for international flights departing

from or arriving in the United States prior to boarding; and, the Secure Flight

Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), which lays out DHS plans to assume watch

list matching responsibilities from air carriers for domestic flights and align

domestic and international passenger prescreening.

Congress mandated that DHS' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) establish

a requirement to receive advance information on international passengers

traveling by air prior to their departure, as part of the 2004 Intelligence

Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA).

Today, CBP requires commercial carriers to provide APIS and certain

Passenger Name Record (PNR) data arriving in or departing from the United

States. The final APIS predeparture regulation will require air carriers to

transmit manifests 30 minutes prior to departure of the aircraft or provide

manifest information on passengers as each passenger checks in for the flight,

up to the time when aircraft doors are secured.

The new plan would require airline passengers to give their full names

when they make their reservations. They also will be asked if they are willing

to provide their address, date of birth and sex to reduce false matches with

names on government terrorist watch lists.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) program to

keep bombs out of airplane cargo holds is considered flawed, leaving passenger

planes vulnerable to attack.

A report issued by the DHS Inspector General in July concludes that TSA

has too few cargo inspectors, a poor database to track violations and vague

rules for screening cargo on commercial transports.

"This report is a scathing indictment of the DHS's current policies for

verifying that bombs, explosives and other dangerous items are not slipped into

cargo containers carried in the belly of a passenger plane," said Representative

Edward Markey (D-MA).

"The current level of oversight does not provide assurance that air

carriers are meeting congressionally-mandated goals of tripling the amount of

cargo screened for passenger aircraft...Consequently, the process increases

opportunities for the carriage of explosives, incendiaries, and other dangerous

devices on passenger aircraft," the DHS IG report states.