Friday, March 11, 2005

Bush Failing To Keep Us Safe In The Air

It's amazing that voters fell for the line that Bush was keeping us safe from terrorism. Here's yet another counter example:

Pilots' group: Aviation security programs failing

TSA: Report card 'a cheap union publicity stunt'

From Mike M. Ahlers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An airline pilots group is giving dismal grades to aviation security, saying "gaping holes" remain almost four years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The group gives failing or near-failing grades to the government and airlines for most aspects of security, from the airport perimeter to the cockpit, concluding that security measures deserve a grade point average of about 1.1.

The best grades go to two areas that have received a lot of attention.

Airport baggage screening received a grade of "B." Cockpit doors also received a "B," although the group noted that strengthened cockpit doors are not mandated in cargo planes of foreign carriers.

The "Aviation Security Report Card" was compiled by the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, a trade association of five pilot unions that represent 22,000 pilots. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations is smaller, and it has tended to be more critical of government and industry than the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 64,000 pilots at 41 airlines in the United States and Canada.

CAPA, for example, wants airlines to immediately install systems to counter the threat of shoulder-fired systems, while ALPA says current anti-missile systems are not suitable for deployment on commercial aircraft, a conclusion also reached by RAND Corp. researchers.

"The technology exists, or could be updated, to address many of these security problems," CAPA President Jon Safley said in a prepared statement. "But neither the airlines, the airports nor government officials have given these issues the priority they deserve."

About $5.6 billion of the Transportation Security Administration's $5.8 billion annual budget is directed toward aviation security.

In a written response, a TSA spokesman said, "CAPA's 'report card' amounts to little more than than a cheap union publicity stunt. The only thing it demonstrates is that CAPA leaders have been cutting class and missed most of the security lessons of the last year."

The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations grades 13 areas of security. They are, from best to worse (comments reflect group's statements):

  • Screening bags: "B." Baggage screening has improved, but some scanners still don't detect explosives.
  • Cockpit doors: "B." The reinforced doors work, but are not mandated on cargo or foreign carriers.
  • Federal air marshals: "C." Air marshals do a good job, but there are too few, and they cover a limited number of flights. The exact number of air marshals is classified.
  • Crew training in classroom: "C." Security training varies widely from airline to airline, and there is no program for cargo crews.
  • Perimeter security: "D." There is a lack of Transportation Security Administration oversight, and security is inconsistent from airport to airport.
  • Threat intelligence: "D." Few airlines share crucial threat updates with their pilots.
  • Pilots with Guns (on passenger planes): "D." The Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which trains pilots to carry handguns while in the cockpit, has "poor operational policies" that limit participation. There is only one facility that trains the pilots. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Association also opposes a requirement that dead-heading pilots -- pilots traveling as passengers -- keep their weapons in locked boxes in the plane's cargo area.
  • Pilots with guns (on cargo aircraft): "D." The Federal Flight Deck Officer program for cargo pilots has just started, and numbers are limited.
  • Screening passengers and employees: "C/F." There is little explosives screening for passengers, and employees are not screened.
  • Screening cargo: "F." The near-total reliance on a "known shipper" program is a serious flaw. "We don't care who the shipper is, we want to know what's in the box," Safley said.
  • Credentialing: "F." Available biometric identification technology has yet to be deployed by the TSA.
  • Crew training -- self-defense: "F." Vital hands-on training is not mandatory, and thus neglected.
  • Missile defense: "F." Shoulder-fired missiles are a serious threat even though countermeasures do exist.
  • Safley said the report card reflects a consensus of opinion from the leaders of CAPA's member unions. The group represents five unions, whose pilots fly for American, Southwest, ABX Air, AirTran and UPS.

    The 9/11 Commission, the independent group that investigated the September 11 attacks, also has criticized aviation spending, saying the money has been spent mainly to meet congressional mandates, and that current efforts "do not yet reflect a forward-looking strategic plan systematically analyzing assets, risks, costs, and benefits."

    Last week, the TSA released a survey saying that travelers gave "consistently high marks" to security screeners.

    Between 80 percent and 95 percent of passengers gave positive responses when asked about seven aspects of the federal security screening process, which included thoroughness and courtesy of screeners as well as confidence in the ability of TSA to keep air travel secure.

    Related Stories on Bush's Failures in Fighting Terrorism


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