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Christmas day security scare

The attempted attack on a civil aircraft on Christmas day reveals many important aspects of aviation security.

  1. We must all play our part in promoting safety for each other.
  2. That terrorists seek and need publicity for their cause.
  3. That hindsight is a wonderful thing.
  4. That blame and recriminations are the fuel of social discontent and fear, and play into the hands of these  terrorist organisations.

What are the facts as we know them today 30 December 2009.

  1. The ingredients of an explosive device  were successfully carried on to a plane.
  2. That the device failed to work in its intended manner.
  3. That the person involved was ‘known’ to the security agencies.

From the perspective of the public we are surprised that someone with such a high profile can gain access to a plane.  Regardless of the point of embarkation we, the public are told that the same standards of security apply worldwide security.  Do we have reason to doubt that now?

From my professional point of view as a pilot I don’t think I’d be any more worried today than before this event…in fact I’d feel a whole lot better because regulations will be tightened.

I think that although the public are encouraged not to take action against terrorists on planes that there is a gathering feeling that they are a good line of final defence.  And who are we to argue with the actions of anyone whose life is at risk.  So that’s an unintended consequence  of these events. I’m sure it’s something the would be bombers will now have to think about and it adds yet another small line of defence.

Remember though that in the past terrorists have acted as a team and they do not  all reveal themselves simultaneously. I have confidence in the system, and that’s different from complacency about it. I have confidence in the training of crews to deal with these events. As a passenger I am prepared to accept any amount of inconvenience  in the name of safe and secure air transport.

It seems incredible that all the information about The Christmas Day  bomber  and his behaviour didn’t result in his exclusion from this form of travel to that particular destination. This is where hindsight makes we the public,  better than the agencies responsible for air safety. But who amongst the public  campaigned for the action that now seems blindingly obvious. And how many thousands of suspects are there upon whom agencies have important information? How would we allocate resources if it were our responsibility?

The problem from a UK perspective, in my opinion , is that political correctness hinders effective action.

In my mind it’s as simple as this;  if the Littlehampton Cricket Club  tells us regularly that they intend to destroy our way of life,  then anyone wearing a cricket outfit or carrying a cricket bat through an airport gets stopped and is thoroughly searched…especially members of the  Littlehampton Cricket Club. .. and their families and supporters and maybe  other cricket clubs. But members of  The Boy Scouts and Womens Institute?  They get  a lower level of screening until they declare war on the world.

It’s called profiling and it hurts only the people who want to be hurt and offended.  For the rest of us … well we can spend our time at the airport enjoying ourselves.

I listened to a very good radio programme last week about airport security and many listeners were making wild suggestions about all the areas of vulnerability at an airport, check in queues and shopping areas…and while this is true it’s very easy to randomly nominate places open to attack which don’t advance the argument.  Why not guard Tower Bridge or Boots the Chemist in Alton.  Or the airport at Sedona?

The fact is  that security is a well developed area of aviation for almost every occasion they get it right. The terrorist has to get it right only once. That’s the battle,  constant and unwavering vigilance. And the point of this piece is to encourage you to be vigilant, to encourage you to be polite to the security people, to encourage you to stay with your bags, to encourage you to follow the security guide lines and not waste time and resources in things that can be dealt with by us.

If we play our part by doing those little things in advance…like  placing fluids in a clear bag removing our shoes and belts not carry sharp objects then I guess we could save the security people 20% of their time and perhaps 1% of their budget then events like the one on Christmas Day would be even less likely.

Captain Keith

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