Everyone recognizes that the rules of airplane travel must change after last week’s quadruple-hijacking and what followed, and almost everyone accepts that increased security will require increased inconvenience and even some loss of freedom. Most of the Federal Aviation Administration’s new rules make a lot of sense. But some of them don’t. Several new FAA regulations are arbitrary, burdensome, and unlikely to make our airplanes or airports any safer. For example:
Abolishing curbside check-in. Firing most of the nation’s skycaps and doing away with fast and efficient check-in will likely hurt, not help, airport security. It will result in longer lines and greater confusion inside the terminal. Bags checked at the curb are supposed to be subject to the same X-ray and inspection rules as bags checked inside. If they’re not, the solution is to fix that, not to forbid this option. There have been no reported instances of terrorists getting bombs or other weapons through security by using curbside check-in. Meanwhile, many of the nation’s 25,000 skycaps will lose their jobs if this rule isn’t reversed.
Keeping cars 300 feet from airport gates. Dozens of U.S. airports will lose thousands of prime, revenue-generating parking spaces that do not conform to the 300-feet rule. Yet when was the last time a plane was hijacked with a car bomb? Answer: never. Yes, a car bomb at an airport would be bad enough. But no worse than one at a ball game or in a downtown parking garage or any other crowded venue where banning cars is not even a consideration. Furthermore, cars will still be allowed to drop off and pick up luggage and passengers right at the terminal. Even a terrorist who was not eager to sample the joys of the afterlife right away would not find the new rule much of a deterrent.
Ban on VFR (Visual Flight Rule) flights. To date, the FAA has banned VFR flights except in Alaska. This has grounded most of the country’s 288,000 private pilots. It is wrecking the $8.6 billion private aviation business. And it serves no purpose. Most small planes carry less than 60 gallons of fuel and weigh under 3,000 pounds. They pose no threat to national security. In fact, private pilots across the nation aid law enforcement with surveillance and search and rescue in all 50 states.
By contrast, there are a few things the FAA has not done that it should consider. Most are already under wide discussion. One is not.
Better training and pay for airport security personnel. Currently, most airport security workers earn less than fast food burger-flippers.
Tighter restrictions on access. Technology makes it possible to fine-tune access cards so that people can only get into the particular area they need to. Access to ramps, gates, fuel facilities, and other sensitive areas could be greatly reduced.
Lock the cockpit. Cockpits should be physically inaccessible to everyone except flight crew. Lightweight, bulletproof Kevlar doors can provide added security.
Arm the cockpit crew. The pilot in command, like a captain at sea, should have superior arms commensurate with his or her authority. Many pilots have had military training. If they carried side arms, they would not think twice about facing terrorists with box-cutters and plastic knives. Bullet holes, though not good for the fuselage, are just fine provided they pass through the bodies of terrorists first.