Legislative and Political Report

Weaving a Security Blanket

Capt. Woerth delivers ALPA message to key congressional audience.

Peter Janhunen, Manager of Publications
Air Line Pilot
, October 2004, p.32

Officials in Washington, D.C., have spent much of summer 2004 discussing the findings of the presidentially appointed 9/11 Commission. The issue was deemed important enough to entice members of Congress back to town in the middle of their August recess and during the political campaign season.

So all eyes (including those of C-SPAN and CNN) were on a small group of government officials and industry leaders whom the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation had invited to testify on the aviation security aspects of the Commission’s report. ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, was among the invited leaders.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, airline pilots and flight attendants were among the first casualties in the War on Terror," Capt. Woerth told the Subcommittee. "Their sacrifice, along with that of so many others that day, launched our nation into a global conflict that continues to rage. The airline industry has been a consistent target in the enemy’s war against this country--even before the events of 9/11--and no one believes that terrorists have changed their opinion about its strategic value."

The Subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), put the hearing in perspective when he stated that a small group of terrorists "was able to easily defeat all layers of aviation security in place on September 11."

Despite that hard truth, much is still to be done to avoid another tragedy, according to ranking member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). For example, he said, "I find it incomprehensible that we don’t have an integrated watch list nearly three years after 9/11."

Given the gravity of the threat, Capt. Woerth called for a comprehensive approach to aviation security, one in which the federal government would acknowledge its duty to fully fund security programs.

"Pilots believe—and history confirms—that we cannot adequately prepare for the next attack if we focus our attention only on the tactics used in the last attack. Nor can we afford to throw billions of dollars at every conceivable threat," Capt. Woerth said, "because we run the risk of creating an escalation factor that works in our enemy’s favor. We must not allow our understandable fear to be leveraged into irrational actions or programs that bankrupt or paralyze air transportation and the larger economy it supports."

Capt. Woerth’s recommendations on how best to add critical layers to our aviation security blanket were grouped into the three classic spheres of security doctrine: Denying enemies the opportunity to attack, detecting them when they prepare to attack, and defeating them when they do attack. Aviation security requires equal attention, creativity and resources in all three areas, he said.

Following is a synopsis of ALPA’s recommendations.

Using intelligence

An effective, comprehensive, and well-managed intelligence effort is critical to denying enemies the opportunity to attack. Unfortunately, no comprehensive aviation security intelligence collection and management apparatus is now in place. Although the Transportation Security Administration has seen an increase in the number of reported suspicious events, and anecdotal reports from ALPA members indicate that airline security and operations are being tested, the government is unable to provide data or trend information on the number of incidents or suspicious events.

ALPA is urging the Department of Homeland Security to create a mechanism for reporting security incidents based on the model that NASA has developed for safety reporting. The key to success is involving frontline employees in collecting comprehensive security reports. While headquarters must connect the dots, getting the developed security information to airline pilots in real time is critical.

"Keeping security information locked up in headquarters will not prevent another 9/11," Capt. Woerth emphasized.

Identification and intent

The second prong of ALPA’s recommendations relates to detecting enemies before they attack. Well before 9/11, ALPA was the only aviation industry group calling for the creation of highly secure identification systems for employees and passengers.

ALPA therefore supports implementing the TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) system. All airline employees went through criminal background checks and fingerprinting 3 years ago, but are still using 20th century picture ID cards. Rapid implementation of TWIC needs to occur as soon as possible.

Capt. Woerth also advocated that the DHS implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for improved passport standards and a biometric entry/exit system for travelers that would automatically identify passengers as they board.

Keeping terrorists out

For airline pilots, the third prong of ALPA’s recommendations—defeating the enemy after an attack—means keeping terrorists out of the cockpit.

"Secretary Mineta’s 9/11 Rapid Response Team, on which I was proud to serve, made many recommendations that have been implemented, including those calling for hardened cockpit doors and checked-baggage screening," Capt. Woerth told the Committee. "But I am especially grateful to the Congress for insisting that the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program be implemented. It is the most cost-effective deterrent we have."

Nonetheless, as the 9/11 Commission correctly notes, "The current efforts do not yet reflect a forward-looking strategic plan, systematically analyzing assets, risks, costs, and benefits." This type of strategic plan should include the following actions:

• Close the gap between the level of security for passenger- and cargo-airline operations, which often operate under different regulatory requirements. For example, many cargo airliners have not been fitted with hardened cockpit doors, ramp personnel or supernumerary passengers are not required to have a criminal history record check, nor is screening for explosives or chemical/biological materials required on all-cargo carriers.

• Continue to work with members of Congress and the TSA to enhance the FFDO program. ALPA believes that by identifying and addressing a few outstanding issues, the number of pilots who volunteer to protect the flight deck with lethal force can be increased, thereby enhancing our national security.

• Mandate the installation of secondary flight-deck barriers. One major airline is equipping its entire fleet of aircraft with these doors, which are inexpensive and can be easily put in place. ALPA supports a provision included in current legislation that Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) has introduced.

Capt. Woerth concluded his remarks by summarizing aspects of ALPA’s soon-to-be unveiled MANPADS position paper.