Inside the Fence

Oct. 8, 2001


By John Infanger, Editorial Director

October 2001

September 11, 2001.
This was not unexpected. The details, perhaps, but discussions with those in the know about security through the years has inevitably led to the reality that no airport, no airliner, can ever be 100 percent secure. But it could have been safer.
Inherently, each one of us in aviation knew that one day some terrorist act would occur that would seriously alter how we conduct business at our system of airports. The extent of the attack on both the system and the country will result in change that few could have imagined.
Those same discussions with security veterans described a U.S. intelligence system that followed a concept of a ring of security. Inside the ring was the United States, perhaps even North America. The security and intelligence system in place was designed to keep the threat outside the ring, and officials gave the impression that they were content that the threat was being contained, according to plan. The word complacency comes to mind.
As we go to press, the U.S. Congress is contemplating financial aid for the air carriers. Our system of commerce cannot be sustained without its financial well-being and ability to move goods and people by air. Yet, these are the same carriers who insisted on paying the least amount of money and provided minimal training to those who would help make their aircraft secure. Most likely, this is today a moot point.
FAA has continually insisted that 100 percent baggage screening cannot be achieved in the near term. But all one has to say is "Pan Am 103" to realize that anything less than 100 percent maintains a high level of risk. One incident, however, will make it happen almost overnight.
For several years, we have had the facade of personal profiling when checking in at an airline. At Boston Logan, while customers were assuring airlines that they had indeed packed their bags themselves and had had them in their control since packing, terrorists were reportedly stealing badges and getting access to the ramp.
A few years ago, a discussion with aviation service companies centered on an NBC Dateline news crew that had breached security at a major U.S. airport and had obtained access to the ramp areas. Operators in attendance were questioning an FAA security official about the possibility of getting a federal law passed to put such journalists in jail, rather than exploring ways to ensure that their own companies would catch the journalist before he ever got near the ramp. In other words, that they were doing their job while the journalist was doing his.
In aviation, it is our nature to fight change. Perhaps it is the American in us. As we move through this period of a war on terrorism, we must be careful not to lose the freedoms on which our society is built. In our industry, we will fight anything that threatens the freedom we have enjoyed since the Wright brothers. But change is upon us, and we must be constructive in how we approach it; we must be instruments of the change, not obstacles to it.
We are, in a way, all partly to blame for what occurred in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. For me the lingering concern is, should I as a journalist have questioned more? Should I have been more critical? That is, after all, my responsibility.
As we watched the events of September 11 unfold, many reacted with tears. For me, the emotion was — and still is — anger. The hope is that we will get better. After all, the freedom of our great country depends on it.