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"Pilots, airports face new protection measures"


 
Sunday, September 8, 2002

Pilots, airports face new protection measures
By CHRIS BENDER
The Beaufort (SC) Gazette


After two hijacked airliners turned a bright New York City morning into
one of the darkest days in the nation's history, many people wondered
how such terror was even possible.

About 19 men, armed only with box cutters and the will to carry out the
deed, took control of four airliners Sept. 11 and flew them into some of
the most recognizable buildings in Washington, D.C., and New York. 

State and federal officials quickly stepped up security at the nation's
airports.

However, the lingering question remains: How much safer do the measures
make commercial airplanes?

Wayne Cousar, a former Delta pilot, thinks the measures have made
traveling by air safer than before Sept. 11. He said the industry is
moving toward the European model for air safety.

"I think we've overreacted a little," Cousar said. "We need to fine-tune
the screening process to go after potential threats."

Doug Carmody, owner of Executive Flight Training at the Beaufort County
Airport on Lady's Island and a pilot for US Airways, said some of the
changes in the cockpit have made pilots safer. Such measures would make
it more difficult for hijackers to take over the plane, as was done
Sept. 11.

"We have the bolted door, which you know about," he said. "There are
also some other measures that have been taken to make the flight crew
safer, but I can't discuss those."

However, there are some proposed security measures Carmody doesn't agree
with.

"In my opinion, pilots shouldn't be armed," Carmody said. "Our job is to
fly the plane."

Cousar, however, said armed pilots would not have allowed the Sept. 11
attacks to happen. Pilots and flight crews were trained to respond to a
different set of circumstances.

"The pilots and crew were drilled on how to survive the first five
minutes of a hijacking," Cousar said. "If you got through that, then you
were probably going to get out with almost no loss of life."

The previous experience with airplane hijackings was that the hijackers
would hold hostage people on board and make demands in exchange for the
hostages.

"In the past, the thing pilots worried about was an uncontrollable fire
while flying out over the ocean," Cousar said. "This obviously changed
all that."

Cousar said he'd be surprised if another attack like this was attempted.
He said it's more likely that terrorists would pick another target and a
different method of attack.

Airports around the country have instituted tighter security measures
and screen passengers more than ever before. That's been true in
Beaufort County, though to a lesser degree, according to Hilton Head
Island Airport director John Lawson.

"Because we are a smaller airport, we've been able to take other
measures so we haven't had to do the random searches," Lawson said.
"That doesn't make us any less safe."

Lawson said the Hilton Head airport, like all other airports around the
country, will have to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to have all checked bags
screened. The deadline was set by the Transportation Security
Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Though general aviation initially suffered from the attacks, Carmody
said the industry has recovered. He said the security changes have been
minimal compared to commercial aviation.

"There haven't been any changes that have come down," Carmody said. 

Carmody said Lady's Island airport has been careful to make sure planes
are locked down and access to them is restricted. He requires students
to show photo identification so he can match it with the information on
the pilot license. He said no student is allowed in a plane without an
instructor.

Another possibility raised by the terrorist attacks was having American
military pilots shoot down U.S. passenger planes that had been hijacked.
Capt. Robb Gallagher, a fighter pilot at Marine Corps Air Station
Beaufort, said it's not a position he'd ever want to be in.

"That is an incredibly tough situation to put an American pilot in,"
Gallagher said. "Thank God we never had to do that."

However, it's not something Gallagher said he couldn't do if he found
himself in that position.

"If I was ordered to do it, I would have done it."


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