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"Pilot's work changed drastically after Sept. 11"



October 3, 2001

Pilot's work changed drastically after Sept. 11
The Cincinnati (OH) Post


On Sept. 11, 2001, passenger airplanes were transmogrified into weapons
of mass destruction. The horror was stupefying. Ash from The World Trade
Center and The Pentagon still covers us all.

Most people here in Greater Cincinnati don't have to face the trauma of
going back to work in the ashes of that destruction, but local pilots
and flight attendants are back at work in those same airplanes, pilots
like Jack.

As an Air Force brat, Jack grew up surrounded by planes. Today, he
pilots passenger jets. Jack loves to fly. He loves the freedom of
streaming through the sky on a clear day. He loves the freedom of not
being tied to a desk, of visiting different cities, cultures and people.

He even loves the responsibility of transporting people to their
destinations because he enjoys watching families being reunited -
mothers with daughters, teens with their non-custodial parent,
preschoolers with their grandparents.

''It is super neat to fly planes,'' he says, ''the environment is so
dynamic.''

But, of course, things are different, now.

Jack first heard about the hijackings as he disembarked a flight at an
airport, like he had done a thousand times before. He was overwhelmed.
He remembers thinking that his work environment was no longer safe.

''I felt violated.'' he says. ''Personally violated.''

Jack says he now has ''a heightened sense of security issues. The 'worse
case scenario' has changed. Now people are using planes as weapons. Now,
as pilots, we don't just think, 'OK, just keep everybody calm and take
the hijackers to Cuba.' Now we have a responsibility to the people on
the ground to keep them safe, as well.''

Jack says that the pilots he knows still want to fly. They spend a lot
of their time in the cockpit talking about possible strategies and
airline safety improvements.

''We talk about the role we would play if we were hijacked. Before, we
always took it for granted that flying was one of the safest modes of
transportation,'' he says. ''Now we just have to work harder to keep it
that way.''

He isn't sure that arming pilots is the answer, but he isn't opposed,
either. ''We can use guns to protect ourselves, but guns can be turned
against us, too. Is the risk worth it?'' he asks.

Guns would add an entirely new responsibility, because, ''if you have a
gun, you have to be prepared to use it.''

Jack thinks the airlines need to look at other prevention methods, like
retrofitting steel doors. Even steel doors raise new concerns, though,
because pilots would need an alternate way to get out of the plane.

Still Jack says he's not worried about flying. He says he would put his
family on a plane. He says there is still room for airport safety
improve ments, but that the government and the industry is doing
everything they can.

Currently, he says, airports are the safest that they have ever been.

''If I didn't think it was safe, I wouldn't be out there flying,'' he
states with conviction.

United, American and Delta airlines have cut back their staff and the
number of flights they are operating by up to 20 percent. The latest
figures show that flights are only 46 percent full - up from 39 percent
the week before.

However, Jack isn't too concerned about the long-term future of the
airline industry. September and October are traditionally slow months.
Jack thinks people will want to fly for the holidays.

Plus, ''aviation isn't going away. We take for granted aviation as
transportation throughout the world. A lot of people don't realize that
we transport more than people. We move human organs for transplant. We
move critical parts for machinery - machinery that affects our everyday
lives, like when there is a failure at a power plant. We move the mail.

''The list goes on. Look at the economic impact. We have thousands of
employees laid off and it affects other industries as well. Almost
everything in this country is touched by aviation. Our country relies on
flight.''

I believe Jack is right. We will return to the skies. My boys and I are
flying this weekend for one last summer hurrah at the beach. For my
family, the airline deals were too good to pass up. I know, too, that
statistically, it is still much safer to fly to North Carolina than it
is to drive to the grocery store.

But my friend canceled her vacation. And I understand completely.
Recovery from national tragedy takes time. And it should.

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