We shall survive

Oct. 8, 2001

We shall survive

I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement after Dunkirk: "…we have suffered an ignominious defeat." We have indeed.

By Ralph Hood

October 2001

As I write this, a few days after events of September 11 changed our world, everyone seems to know what we did wrong and what we should do about it. I do not. My prayer is not that we do what I think should be done, but that our leaders have more knowledge and wisdom than I.
That being said, a few comments about our air transportation system …
Some would blame our government and our airlines for "allowing" this to happen. Let us not forget that the goal of our air transportation system is and always has been to allow a free citizenry to travel when and where it wishes, as inexpensively as possible. Our citizenry has demanded cheap, frequent flights. It has not demanded great security, and has resisted what security we had. That will change, now, and our system will change accordingly. We will trade some convenience for some safety, and will probably overdo it for a while.
We will first change those things that will provide the biggest improvement in safety with the smallest investment in dollars, time, and inconvenience. Someone in USA Today urged that we put a steel wall — not a door, but a wall — between cockpit and passenger cabin, with a separate outside door for the pilots. Obviously, the writer is unaware of supplemental type certificates, structural criticality, weight and balance, and the time/cost of installing that door. No way will we park jets for weeks to install million-dollar doors. I do believe, however, that by the time you read this we will be rapidly installing strong doors between cockpit and cabin, and that said doors will never be opened while passengers are on board. That will provide a maximum safety boost for a minimum investment, and it will happen quickly.
We will give serious consideration to armed guards aboard flights, armed pilots, and other practices currently used by Israel’s El Al airline. I think we will also restudy the obvious rewards of joint-use airports, with all of the security thus gained. At all airports security will be upgraded quickly, carry-on baggage will diminish greatly (if it doesn’t disappear completely), and passengers will identify checked baggage just as they board (again, as El Al already does it). Travel will be less convenient. We will put up with it.
Reagan National Airport might still be closed when you read this. Indeed, it may never open again. Some say it should have been closed long ago. Airline pilots have told me for years — after a couple of beers and off the record, of course — that they hate the airport for safety reasons, and that was before we started worrying about suicidal airline flights.
Look at a map of the D.C. area. There is no way to protect important targets from airplanes using DCA. If it is kept open, will it be because those in Congress are more interested in their own convenience than in safety? (In keeping with the joint-use concept, I wonder if we should put F-16s at Reagan National and let airlines use Andrews AFB?)
We shall survive. The big job is to make sure we survive as what we are: a free country with (reasonably) convenient travel. I think we will make it.
As for those who did this, I am again reminded of a Churchillian quote. Talking on behalf of the English-speaking people following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he said of the Japanese, "What kind of people do they think we are?"