Progress Report on U.S. Aviation Security

Air Line Pilot, March/April 2002, p. 16
By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

The culmination of 20 years of this Association’s working for more secure skies, as well as our nearly around-the-clock effort on security issues since the tragic events of September 11…."

The new legislation "will yield the most significant enhancements to security aboard airplanes and in airports in many years."
—Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President

So said ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, on Nov. 16, 2001, characterizing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) that Congress was about to pass. President George W. Bush signed the Act into law 3 days later.

Capt. Woerth noted that ALPA was "extremely pleased with, and fully supports," the security measures outlined in the ATSA. He said they "would authorize some of the most urgent priorities for strengthening airline security."

High on the list of security improvements contained in the ATSA are these:

• Airport security screening and related security responsibilities will be federalized. Capt. Woerth said federalization "will now provide the highest level of security, making these practices uniform and consistent throughout the nation’s air transportation system. All screening personnel must be U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma, and speak English. As part of the nation’s civil service system, screeners will now earn respectable compensation."

• The FAA will significantly increase the size and strength of its Federal Air Marshal program.

• Cockpit doors will be strengthened and will include electronic locking mechanisms that cannot be opened from the outside.

• Firearms will be permitted in the cockpit, subject to government and airline approval, and pilots passing stringent training and tests.

Capt. Woerth said the new legislation "will yield the most significant enhancements to security aboard airplanes and in airports in many years."

The Association played a vital role in achieving these successes. To properly assess the progress of the Association and other key participants in the ongoing massive effort to improve aviation security, let’s take a look back at the recommendations ALPA issued on Sept. 17, 2001, and the status of each:

Near-Term Action Items

1. A dead-bolt lock that cannot be overridden with a key from outside should be placed on the inside of cockpit doors; the door must be capable of being opened quickly in the event of a safety problem. This will offer a relatively small, but needed, additional margin of security over today’s cockpit doors. A second, lightweight mesh net door should be installed behind the cockpit door on the flight deck side. This net door could be used as an additional protection device in the event of a security breach in the cabin.

Status: Complete.

Capt. Dolan notes, "The FAA required new door locks on all airliners, including regional and all-cargo-equipment. Although not required in the near term, some advanced flight deck protection systems use mesh net doors."

2. Complete research and development of an advanced cockpit door technology capable of securing the flight crew against attacks by would-be cockpit intruders, armed or otherwise. The door system, which must be fail-safe in the event of an accident requiring rapid egress, should be retrofitted on current airplanes and installed by the manufacturers on new airplanes. (This item cannot be accomplished immediately, but it needs to be expedited.)

Status: Complete.

"This was a major win," Capt. Dolan observes. "We got the rigorous standards for new cockpit doors and a firm deadline for installing or retrofitting them. By going through Congress, we persuaded the Department of Transportation and the FAA that the new doors also should be installed and retrofitted on cargo airplanes and smaller airliners, too."

3. Install at least two stun guns as standard equipment in the cockpits of airliners. Sophisticated devices of this type now on the market can immediately incapacitate a person of any size or strength, without posing any health risks to him or her. The devices have laser sights for accuracy and can be used on a person as far as 15 feet away.

Status: Several airlines are actively pursuing less-than-lethal weapons for flight crews. ALPA changed its position on weapons in the cockpit since preparing this recommendation (see "Longer-Term Actions, No. 7").

4. Provide armed law enforcement escorts on air carrier flights for an undetermined period—which the FAA has committed to doing on a limited basis. The FAA’s Federal Air Marshal program should be enlarged by hiring and training additional agents. The FBI should, at the same time, create a force of aviation federal agents who can be assigned temporarily from other law enforcement agencies.

Status: Complete.

The FAA has "significantly" increased the number of FAMs and the number of airline flights carrying them, though the agency cannot divulge the actual numbers for obvious reasons.

5. All employees and armed law enforcement officers (LEOs)—except for the airport’s own uniformed police officers—should be screened via electronic identity verification. As soon as possible, require that airports install access-control card readers at screening checkpoints for electronically identifying all employees contained in their FAR Part 107.14 databases. Until means are in place to electronically verify all employees’ and armed LEOs’ identities, they should produce a company identification card and a photo driver’s license for this purpose.

Status: Actively pursuing.

ALPA has been working since 1987 to have such a system installed nationwide. The Association earlier this year redoubled its efforts to develop an industrywide consensus and support for a "smart card" access-control and identity-verification (ACIV) system at all U.S. airports. High-level meetings of aviation principals are being held at the request of Capt. Woerth to facilitate this effort.

6. Change current FAA security directives to (1) allow pilots to carry a small tool kit or "multi-tool" through screening checkpoints after their identity as flight crew members has been verified, and (2) require airlines to place these tools in the cockpit as additional aircraft equipment.

Status: Actively pursuing.

7. Install one or more switches in the cabin to enable flight attendants to discreetly notify the flight crew that a security breach has occurred in the cabin.

Status: Actively pursuing.

Until means are in place to electronically verify all employees’ and armed LEOs’ identities, they should produce a company identification card and a photo driver’s license for this purpose.

8. Immediately require that all new-hire employees who will have access to airport/airline secure areas pass a criminal background check.

Status: Actively pursuing an amendment to the rule.

"This didn’t work out quite the way we wanted it to," Capt. Dolan acknowledges. "Over our strenuous objections, Congress and the FAA made the background checks mandatory for existing employees, too, looking back 10 years. Representatives from other airline unions and I met with [FAA Administrator Jane] Garvey on January 15 and expressed our concerns about the harshness of the new rule that the FAA issued for current employees. She understands our views on this issue, but it’s too soon to say whether we’ll get any relief from several undesirable provisions contained in the rule."

9. Immediately require that airlines and airports revalidate all employee identification cards using hologram stickers, or by reissuing cards. Some airports may be able to electronically revalidate their cards if they have a computerized access-control system.

Status: Complete.

10. Apply the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) to both domestic and international arrivals and departures in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. CAPPS, if properly configured, could help identify potential security risks before boarding and should be used even after the current threat diminishes, if it does.

Status: Complete.

The FAA immediately required use of CAPPS in all domestic and international departures. CAPPS is going through its second revision as this is being written.

11. Update the Common Strategy used by the FAA, law enforcement agencies, airlines, and pilots during hijackings to include measures to deal with suicidal hijackers and other extremely dangerous events not currently described in this training. Airline security training must be greatly improved—content should be determined by the threat, not merely by compliance with regulations and guidance.

Status: Complete.

The Common Strategy Working Group, organized by ALPA and made up of representatives of the FBI, the Secret Service, airlines, and airline labor groups, made numerous recommendations to the FAA on ways in which airline security training should be improved.

12. Prohibit deporting Immigration and Nationalization Service deportees by airline without at least two armed escorts. Deportees have been known to cause serious security risks incompatible with public transportation.

Status: Actively pursuing.

13. Require that the FAA reissue airline pilot certificates in a machine-readable (smart card) format. Remove all pilot names and addresses from public view on the World Wide Web and other publicly accessible databases.

Status: Actively pursuing.

ALPA is promoting the concept of storing pilot certificate information on smart cards as part of its access-control and identity-verification efforts (see Item 5).

14. A public information program should be created by the government and the airline industry to educate the traveling public about airline safety and security. A better-informed public could serve as additional "eyes and ears" of security and cause fewer problems aboard airliners.

Status: Complete.

The ATSA addressed this need. ALPA, together with the FAA and the DOT, published a brochure, "America Flies!" which is being distributed to passengers.

15. Implement the recommendations of the FAA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee’s Employee Utilization Working Group. The essence of these recommendations is that all airport, airline, and service employees can, and should, receive an appropriate level of training and ongoing information about how to make aviation more secure. One noteworthy recommendation is that a security reporting "hotline" be created at all airports for tips, suspicious behavior, abandoned bags, etc.

Status: Actively pursuing.

This recommendation was also written into the ATSA.

16. Provide enhanced security briefings for all flight crew members. The threat information that pilots get, if any, is very poor and usually old. A better means of relaying such information to the Inflight Security Coordinator (i.e., the captain) is greatly needed. The methodology for obtaining such briefings needs to be developed with input from pilots, airlines, and the intelligence community.

Status: Actively pursuing.

The threat information that pilots get, if any, is very poor and usually old. A better means of relaying such information to the Inflight Security Coordinator (i.e., the captain) is greatly needed.

17. Install full-vision oxygen masks to prepare for an attack involving chemical or biological agents.

Status: Actively pursuing.

"We’ve learned since last September that oxygen masks that many carriers are currently using may not be adequate equipment for dealing with this threat," Capt. Dolan explains.

18. Immediately develop and implement an ATC communication code for advising all pilots within radio contact that a flight is under duress or has experienced a significant security-related event. The major purpose of this action is to alert crews to take appropriate precautionary measures to prevent a similar occurrence on their aircraft.

Status: Actively pursuing.

Longer-Term Action Items

1. Transfer the FAA’s responsibilities for oversight of the aviation security system to a law enforcement agency. The FAA was created with a dual, conflicting mandate, namely, to (1) promote and (2) ensure the safety/security of aviation. A new law enforcement agency, whose sole mission is preventing and combating aviation-related crime, would clearly eliminate such conflict and allow that agency to be much more proactive, and less political, than the FAA. Whereas the FAA’s modus operandi is to develop, promulgate, and enforce regulations, the law enforcement agency should focus on countering existing and evolving threats.

Status: Complete.

"This also didn’t come out exactly as we wanted," Capt. Dolan admits. "We wanted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to be placed under the Department of Justice. Instead, Congress put it under the Department of Transportation—but it is nevertheless separate from the FAA. It is also a law enforcement agency staffed predominately with law enforcement professionals."

2. Completely overhaul the U.S. security screening checkpoint system. A well-run security screening corporation should perform the screening function under the aegis of the aforementioned aviation law enforcement agency. Security screening has been widely acknowledged for a long time to be a weak link in our overall aviation security system. Fixing this problem, using highly trained and motivated, well-paid screening professionals and the best possible equipment, is long overdue. The United States should borrow from successful European security screening systems, which employ interviewers, separate ramp crew access, and use other measures.

Status: Actively pursuing.

The ATSA mandated federalizing the U.S. airport security screening function, setting national standards for screeners, and revamping their training and supervision. The TSA is in the process of instituting the ATSA’s provisions.

3. Research, develop, and deploy as rapidly as possible a new high-tech security screening system capable of rapidly and accurately detecting explosive devices, weapons, and chemical/biological agents in carry-on bags or on a passenger’s body or clothing. The FAA has launched a research project, "Secure Flow," aimed at this goal; ALPA strongly supports this concept.

Status: Actively pursuing.

4. Implement currently available electronic technology to positively verify the identity of each authorized person who enters an airport secure area and who is not processed at the security screening checkpoint. Improper controls on airline identification media contributed to a suicidal former employee bringing down PSA Flight 1771 in 1987. We have known for some time that certain persons, almost certainly terrorists, have been stealing pilot uniforms and credentials. Creating a system that will prevent a pilot impostor from fraudulently gaining access to aircraft and threatening the lives of all aboard and others on the ground is long overdue. One positive development in this regard is that the FAA is currently testing a memory chip card (MCC) system to positively verify the identities of armed LEOs when they enter secure terminal areas.

Status: Actively pursuing.

See the comments in Item 5 of the Near-Term Actions.

Creating a system that will prevent a pilot impostor from fraudulently gaining access to aircraft and threatening the lives of all aboard and others on the ground is long overdue.

5. Require that airlines implement a methodology for positively identifying each passenger and bag on the airplane using currently available, computerized technology. Doing so will (1) be a deterrent to terrorists and (2) help ensure that nothing comes aboard the aircraft that cannot be identified later. Such an identification system should be integrated with CAPPS.

Status: Actively pursuing.

The FAA held airlines to the January 18 deadline imposed by the ATSA to inspect all checked baggage. Given four options—hand searches, scanning by an explosives detection system (EDS), canine search, or making a positive match of every checked bag with a passenger on the airplane—most airlines chose positive passenger/bag matching to meet the requirement.

ALPA views these stopgap measures as a definite improvement in tightening aviation security. However, the Association strongly supports expeditiously developing and using EDS equipment at all airports serving airlines.

6. In connection with the previous action item, the airlines should gather, and have readily available, basic information about each passenger’s special capabilities, if any. In an emergency, the captain could, by contacting dispatch, immediately determine if any doctors, law enforcement officers, bomb specialists, or other persons with special skills were on the flight and could be asked to help in an emergency.

Status: Actively pursuing.

This concept was also written into the ATSA. Responding to an FAA request for comments on this issue, ALPA recently submitted specifics on how to gather this information and make it available to flight crews.

7. Explore the feasibility of developing a program by which airline pilots who meet strict qualifications could volunteer to be trained as federal LEOs with arrest authority and be allowed to carry weapons in the cockpit to protect themselves and their passengers. Carrying weapons in the cockpit would be permitted only if a system to positively identify airline pilots also was in place.

Status: Actively pursuing.

"We were very influential in getting language written into the Aviation and Transportation Security Act to permit our members to be armed in the cockpit if they volunteer to do so and meet stringent qualifications," Capt. Dolan advises. ALPA recently submitted comments to the FAA on how the government should create a federal pilot officer program and called for the DOT to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject.