My Turn: A better approach to airline security

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2001

I disagree with some opinions voiced in the guest editorial published in Tuesday's Empire. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (and Don Young, it seems) encourage the implementation of "trained federal marshals on every flight," denigrate the abilities of airport and airline employees "trusted with the flying public's safety," and advocate that the airlines should bear the cost of installing impregnable access to the cockpit.

First of all, with 30,000-plus flights per day (conservatively speaking), two federal marshals per plane adds about 90,000 federal employees to the taxpayer's burden (exclusive of the requisite and disproportionate number of administrators that come with the package).

Simple math tells me it would be far more cost effective (human life and dollars) to subsidize the one-time installation of a defensible cockpit on somewhat less than 30,000 airplanes than it would be to hire, train, and pay (for how many years?) salaries and benefits to an additional 90,000-plus additional federal employees.

I have no doubt that the security personnel in place in our country's airports are fallible. They are human, therefore imperfect, as would be every one of the above mentioned 90,000 new federal employees.

This week, I completed four flight segments of airline travel, during which I was treated courteously, but screened thoroughly prior to my access to boarding areas. My carry-on bag was inspected both electronically and physically prior to each flight segment. Yes, I saw boredom on the faces of some of the people charged with these activities. It's a boring job, and too many travelers are cranky, rude, and unthinking when dealing with this unavoidable part of air travel.

Since we, the taxpayers are already being asked to bail out the airlines, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect that the terms of any such bailout should stipulate that the necessary improvements to cockpit security be one of the designated uses of a any funds advanced to the airlines.

Would the propensity for boredom or indifference be any less among 90,000 air marshals, forced to endure daily all the inconveniences that we all regularly grouse about, but really only experience on a limited basis?

Perhaps the first class section, with its attendant curtain could be moved to the rear of the plane, so that most of the passengers on the plane could see the cockpit door. With a higher percentage of passengers given the opportunity to observe an attempted assault on the cockpit, I have no doubt that any terrorist's attempts would become more difficult.

When I consider the sheer number of air travel passengers our country hosts each day, and the likely fallibility of even the most stringent "police state" approach to air travel security, I am inclined to believe that a secure cockpit and heightened awareness among the traveling public can accomplish just as much at far less cost.

John Weedman is a Juneau businessman.

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