Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays

This will be the final post in this blog for 2006 as we take off for a week or so to enjoy the holidays with family and friends. We'll be back to posting news for and about people who work in aviation in the first week of January. 2007.

We wish all the best to our readers and we hope that crews all over the world have a healthy, safe, and Happy 2007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

EU: Bulgarian aviation safety 'insufficient'

The European Union (EU) says that Bulgaria has significant shortcomings in aviation safety. Bulgaria is set to join the EU in January, but its airline sector will not be integrated into the EU until it guarantees an improvement in standards.

From an article in the International Herald Tribune:
EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot stopped short of banning Bulgarian airlines from EU skies, but said their planes might be grounded by member states on safety grounds.

"As things stand, we are not satisfied that Bulgaria meets the required standard" of airline safety, Barrot said in a statement.

The commission said Bulgaria showed important shortcomings "in the field of safety oversight in general, and for the certification of airworthiness and maintenance of aircraft."

It said staff numbers in civil aviation in Bulgaria were insufficient and their level of training "generally inadequate to perform their duties at the required level."
The Bulgarian transport minister reportedly has told Barrot that the situation would be improved "as soon as possible."

Source: EU says aviation safety in Bulgaria is insufficient - International Herald Tribune

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lawmakers want all airport workers screened by TSA

Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for closer scrutiny of airport workers. They want more background checks, and they want all airport employees to be screened for weapons when they arrive for work each day.

An article in the Federal Times says that the lawmakers' concerns arise not from a specific plot "but rather recent arrests that point to potential holes in security."
"This is the weakest link" in aviation, said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee who has proposed a bill that would require airport employees to be screened.
That bill would require:
  • The Transportation Security Administration to issue rules within a year to screen all airport employees.
  • Airports to comply with the TSA order within three years.
  • TSA to start a pilot within four months at five airports that would test employee screening.
One airport operations director quoted in the article calls the provisions of the bill "an unworkable idea that could create gridlock." Nevertheless, the article goes on to note:
TSA has already moved ahead with extra security. The agency this fall adopted policies requiring that everyone working at airports — from taxi drivers to gift shop clerks — be checked for criminal history, terrorist ties and immigration violations. Previously, only employees with access to secure areas faced the checks.

TSA also has started assigning teams of screeners to roam secured areas, doing random searches of airport employees, said Earl Morris, TSA general manager for field operations.
But TSA does not screen airport workers who already have passed background checks. Rep. Lowey feels this is a loophole through which airport workers "could become unwilling accomplices if a terrorist uses them to sneak dangerous materials into an airport."

Source: Lawmakers: Screen airport workers - Federal Times

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Monday, December 18, 2006

British pilots opposed to FAMs

From the Washington Times:
British pilots oppose a proposed change in the United States' visa-waiver program that would require participating countries to provide armed security on U.S.-bound foreign airlines or allow U.S. air marshals to protect such flights.

"Any need to carry weapons on aircraft should be recognized as a failure of the airport security systems," the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) said.

British pilots favor "proper passenger profiling" through a "database of potential terrorists, their known aliases and all their known associates as well as known disruptive passengers," the association said in a statement provided to The Washington Times.
One prevailing point of view on this issue favors a strategy of having Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) on as many flights as possible. Another approach is to arm pilots through the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program.
David Mackett, a commercial airline pilot and president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, said there is no alternative to defending aircraft with armed weapons, but that protection by marshals is too costly.

"With 30,000 flights a day, using air marshals, it would cost $14 billion per year and take a force the size of the U.S. Coast Guard -- it simply can't be done," Mr. Mackett said.

Instead, he said Congress should revamp the Federal Flight Deck Officer program to encourage more pilots to seek weapons training.

"Using armed pilots, we could protect every flight in the sky for about $30 million a year because the pilots ask no compensation," Mr. Mackett said.
The Airline Pilots Security Alliance may be right about the prohibitive costs of putting FAMs on every plane, but I'm not sure that the FFDO program is the answer either.

I tend to agree with the British pilots that any need to carry firearms aboard passenger aircraft indicates a failure of airport security systems. But matching passengers against lists of known or suspected terrorists will never be sufficient, since there is no way to compile a comprehensive list of every possible alias and every possible variant spelling of the names of every possible bad guy in the world.

Measures such as prohibiting passengers from bringing all but the smallest amounts of liquids into an aircraft cabin also seem futile -- perhaps even ridiculous. (And let's not forget that 'Scissors - metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than four inches' are still permitted, according to the TSA list of Permitted and Prohibited Items.) Motivated individuals will always be able to figure out ways to fool poorly trained screeners, and will discover or invent new kinds of 'weapons.'

Behavioral profiling may be one of the better methods available for preventing future hijackings and terrorism in the skies. Law enforcement agencies around the country have been using behavioral profiling with some success, but in order to be effective the method requires a considerable amount of training. Behavior recognition training can be both time-consuming and expensive. And who should be trained? -- security screeners? Check-in and gate agents? Cabin crew? All of the above?

Clearly there is no obvious or easy answer to any of these issues.

Source: British pilots say no to armed marshals - Washington Times

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

ICAO guidelines for liquids on board aircraft

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has issued a set of "interim security control guidelines for the screening of liquids, gels and aerosols that may be used in improvised explosive devices on board an aircraft."

These guidelines were set forth in an ICAO news release dated December 11, 2006:
  • All liquids should be carried in containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml, or the equivalent in other volumetric measurements. Liquids carried in containers larger than 100 ml are not to be accepted, even if the container is only partially filled.
  • Containers should be placed in a transparent re-sealable plastic bag of a maximum capacity of one litre. The containers must fit comfortably within the transparent plastic bag, which should be completely closed.
  • The plastic bag should be presented for visual examination at the screening point. Only one transparent plastic bag per passenger should be permitted.
  • Exemptions should be made for medications, baby milk/foods and special dietary requirements. An appropriate and proportionate means of verifying the nature of such liquids will need to be available.
The ICAO Council further suggested to its 189 Contracting States, who are responsible for establishing their own lists of prohibited items based on ICAO guidance to ensure global harmonization, that they may also wish to consider the exemption of liquids purchased either at airport duty free shops or on board aircraft. They would have to be packed in a sealed plastic bag that is both tamper-evident and displays satisfactory proof of purchase at airport duty free shops, or on board aircraft, on the day(s) of the journey for both departing as well as transfer passengers.

Finally, to facilitate screening and avoid a cluttered x-ray image, it is recommended that the plastic bags holding liquid containers should be presented apart from other cabin baggage, coats and jackets or laptops for separate x-ray screening.

The recommendations are based on the reports of the Aviation Security (AVSEC) Panel and the International Explosives Technical Commission of ICAO concerning the alleged terrorist plot of 9 August 2006 in the United Kingdom, and are to be implemented not later than 1 March 2007.

While fully endorsing the work of the AVSEC Panel, the Council requested that it continue revising the recommended overall list of prohibited items as part of a Secretariat Study Group, also consisting of members from ICAO’s Dangerous Goods and Facilitation Panels, with participants from industry. The target date for review by Council of these latest guidelines is June 2007.

An ICAO Ad Hoc Group of Specialists on the Detection of Explosives is currently working on the development of technologies and operational procedures for the detection of liquids, gels or aerosols with certain physical properties that could be used in explosive devices. The AVSEC Panel Working Group on Training is developing new interim guidance material for screeners.

"Success in mitigating and eliminating all threats to civil aviation can only be achieved through the concerted effort of everyone concerned and a close working relationship between national agencies and aviation security regulators of all Contracting States," emphasized Mr. Roberto Kobeh González, ICAO Council President.

"We must continually monitor and reassess the worldwide security regime to ensure that it is effective, practicable and sustainable, and that it takes into account the best practices of States and other stakeholders," he added.
Source: ICAO Issues Recommendations for the Screening of Liquids Taken On Board Aircraft - ICAO News Release

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Triple-7 gets all choked up over pilot's retirement

Sometimes well-intentioned acts just go terribly wrong. Take a recent incident at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC as an example.

A United Airlines captain had just landed a B777 aircraft, completing his final trip before retirement. Firetrucks were stationed to meet the aircraft and provide a water cannon 'salute' for the retiring pilot. Inexplicably, the plane was sprayed with fire retardant foam instead of water. The foam was ingested into the aircrafts engines.

Here's how the Aero-News Network told the story:
What was supposed to be a salutation this week to a retiring United Airlines captain ended with a Boeing 777 in the repair shop... and a mess on the ramp.

Media reports state the United Airlines 777-200 had just arrived at Washington Dulles from Paris, and was taxiing to the gate when it took a slight detour... so fire trucks stationed on either side of the jetway could spray the time-honored "water cannon salute" given to retiring pilots, and sometimes aircraft. In this case, the 777's pilot was making his last flight.

United Airlines won't confirm what happened next. Sources say, however, the fire trucks blasted foam fire retardant at the airliner, instead of water.

For the most part, foam will sluice off the fuselage without causing damage... but it's quite another matter when it is ingested into the engines.

"We are conducting a full investigation and are currently looking at the aircraft to ascertain damage," said an unidentified United spokeswoman.
Now both of the aircraft's engines will have to be overhauled before they can be returned to service.

Source: Water Cannon Salute Damages United Airlines 777 -

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tilton: Airline industry needs consolidation

There sure is a lot of buzz going on these days about airline mergers and 'consolidation' within the industry. The pot has been stirred by public statements from United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton.

He was quoted in a Reuters article on
"We think it is good and overdue for the industry despite the fact that it is difficult," Glenn Tilton said on a webcast of a UAL investors meeting.

"We are not in position to comment on anything specifically," Tilton said, adding that the airline is attentive to merger opportunities.
It has been widely rumored that United and Continental Airlines will merge in the near future.

More on the rising tide of 'merger mania,' also from Reuters:
The subject of airline mergers is very much on the agenda following last month's unsolicited bid for Delta by US Airways. Some experts believe US Airways' bid will trigger a wave of consolidation.

Just last week, Northwest Airlines, which also is restructuring in bankruptcy, asked for court permission to hire a financial adviser to help it evaluate strategic alternatives that could include a merger.

Northwest told employees in an internal posting that its interest in hiring an adviser does not mean that the company is considering a merger.

The airline industry has been weakened in recent years by low-fare competition and soaring fuel prices. Many experts say the key to prosperity for airlines is to cut capacity in order to gain more leverage over fares.

Airline mergers can result in capacity reductions where the routes and services of merging airlines overlap.
In the face of all this, the big issue for airline employees is employment stability. Mergers and acquisitions invariably result in the loss of jobs for some. For those who keep their jobs, the issues will be retention of seniority, and which labor contract provisions will prevail.

Sources: Airline Industry Needs Consolidation - UAL CEO -

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Airbus A380 gets U.S. and European type certification

It's official. The world's largest airliner, the new A380 suberjumbo aircraft developed by Airbus, has been type certified by both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

The two agencies formally announced their approval in a ceremony at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France. From a Reuters article on
Airbus has sold a total of 149 A380s after deducting the 10 originally ordered by FedEx.

The aircraft was conceived as the A3XX in 1997 and the project was formally launched as the A380 in December 2000.

Industry sources say it cost an estimated EUR12 billion (USD$15.9 billion) to develop.
As of now, the first A380 is scheduled for delivery in late 2007.

Source: Airbus A380 Gets Type Certification -

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Monday, December 11, 2006

ExcelAire pilots: Back on U.S. soil

They're home at last. The two American pilots who were involved in the mid-air collision between a corporate jet and a Brazilian airliner in late September are back on U.S. soil.

An article from Newsday, republished on the Airport Business website, quotes the two ExcelAire pilots:
"It feels good to be home," said Joseph Lepore about 5 p.m. yesterday, as he strode toward the Bay Shore ranch house where he lives with his wife, two children and parents.

Jan Paladino said, "It feels great," as he hauled a travel bag into his Westhampton Beach house. "I'm glad to be home."

"We're very excited," Paladino's wife, Melissa, said. "He's had a long ordeal. He's looking forward to getting some rest."
The article also features a nice photo of the two men on the airstairs of the Embraer Legacy 600 that brought them from Brazil back to Ronkonkoma, NY, the same aircraft type they were piloting at the time of the accident.

Among those waiting to greet the returning pilots was New York Times journalist Joe Sharkey, who was a passenger aboard the Legacy that collided with the airliner over Brazil. He's done a fine job using his blog to keep the focus on the plight of the pilots during the time that they were prevented from leaving Brazil.

Source: ExcelAire Pilots Detained in Brazil Return Home - Airport Business

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Latest buzz on explosives detection

Did you know that honeybees can be trained to detect explosives? Neither did I, but apparently it can be done.

According to an Associated Press article on the Airport Business website, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory say that bees can be trained to detect even tiny amounts of explosives.
In thousands of trials conducted over the past 18 months at the nuclear weapons lab, bees stuck out their tongues when they smelled explosives. The bees even underwent field trials, successfully sniffing out explosives in a simulated roadside bomb, in a vehicle, and on a person rigged like a suicide bomber.

The insects have a phenomenal sense of smell, rivaling that of dogs, [researcher Thomas] Haarmann said.

"The beauty of the bee is that when it has a sugar water reward, it sticks out its proboscis," the scientist said. "It's not a little tiny tongue. It's bigger than the antennae."
Military officials have decided that the bees are "not reliable enough for military tactical use at this point." However, the folks at Los Alamos say it's too early to rule out the possibility of "another federal agency, or a private company, refining the technology and developing other uses for bomb-sniffing bees - at airports, for example, or at the nation's borders."
The researchers found that ordinary honeybees can readily be trained by being exposed to the odor of an explosive, then given sugar water as a reward. After a few times, the bee, anticipating the sugar water, will stick out its tongue at the smell of the explosive.

The Los Alamos study was designed to test technology pioneered by a small British biotechnology company, Inscentinel. The company has developed a small portable sensing unit - a box, basically - into which three strapped-down bees are placed. The bees' so-called proboscis extension reflexes are automatically detected by a camera and associated software, with the results available on a laptop computer.

Haarmann said the study showed that trained bees can detect explosives in a parts-per-trillion concentration, even when masked by other odors.

While that is similar to what dogs can do, Haarmann said, there are situations in which using bees might be preferable. The bee box, he suggested, could be held by a robotic device right next to a suspected bomb while the operator watched the laptop from a safe distance.
I want to know who's in charge of strapping those bees into that box. Do you think they use a five-point harness?

Source: Study Says Bees Can Find Explosives - Airport Business

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Friday, December 08, 2006

U.S. pilots charged over Brazil plane crash

From Reuters AlertNet:
Brazilian police charged two U.S. pilots on Friday with endangering air safety in the crash of a Brazilian airliner over the Amazon rain forest that killed all 154 people on board.


The pilots were charged on Friday when they appeared at federal police headquarters in Sao Paulo for questioning, a police spokesman said. The charges carry a maximum sentence of four years imprisonment, he added.

The pilots' lawyers called the charges premature and suggested that their clients were being made scapegoats before the investigation was concluded.

"This act is absolutely prejudiced and discriminatory," said Jose Carlos Dias, one of Brazil's best-known defense attorneys and a former justice minister. "They're rushing to find someone to blame."
The two pilots are being allowed to return to the United Stets despite being charged. Their lawyer says that they have agreed to return to Brazil "at any time during the investigation if authorities request it."

A statement from their employer, ExcelAire, said: "The insistence of the police officials to criminalize this accident investigation runs counter to the safety of the international flying public, and has been the target of worldwide criticism."

Sources: Two U.S. pilots charged over Brazil plane crash - Reuters AlertNet

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brazilian aviation crisis

Air traffic controllers in Brazil say they are overworked and underpaid. (Sound familiar?) In protest, they have organized several work slowdowns in recent months, and those actions have caused great disruption to air travel in Brazil.

Now an 'equipment malfunction' has shut down three major airports in Brazil, and some seem to believe that the 'malfunction' may not have occurred by chance. According to an article on the Aero-News Network website:
Although the government blamed the malfunctions on a technical glitch, a retired Brazilian Air Force Colonel and recognized Brazilian aviation expert says it was sabotage. Franco Ferreira believes controllers feel they are being held up as scapegoats for the Gol airlines crash.

Ferreira claims, "There is no doubt that this was intentional."
In the face of so many flight cancellations and delays "Reuters reports passengers have taken to wearing red clown noses and blowing whistles as they wait in line at airports." What a sight that must have been!

Source: Brazilian Aviation In Crisis Following Sabotage Claims -

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More than 100 orders for new HondaJet

This past July I made a post about Honda's plans to enter the aviation market with the introduction of a corporate jet. Apparently the idea of a HondaJet sounded appealing to quite a few folks. According to an AFP article on, over100 orders have been placed for the new aircraft.
[Michimasa Fujino, chief executive of the Honda Aircraft Co. Inc.] said the firm had started working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October to gain approval for the HondaJet and that it expects to start deliveries to customers in 2010.

"The FAA certification takes three or four years because the process is very time-consuming," said Fujino.

He said the HondaJet will use about 30 percent less fuel than rival corporate jets, and that it is roomier than other planes in its class.

The jet's body is made of high-tech composite material that is also used to build Formula 1 racing cars, and it will be configured to carry two crew and five passengers.

The HondaJet will fly at over 420 nautical miles (778 kilometers) per hour with a cruising range of 1,180 nautical miles (2,185 kilometers).

Honda is entering the market in a joint venture with US-based Piper Aircraft, while it will collaborate with General Electric to make the plane's engines.
So far, orders have been taken from companies and private individuals, not fleet operators. Sounds like the HondaJet has a lot of potential for growth.

Source: Orders build up for Honda's new corporate jet -

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Missile defense for commercial planes

How long have we been hearing about missile defense systems being developed for commercial aircraft? They're coming. They're on the way. They're almost ready.

Here's another article on that topic, telling us that "systems to protect commercial planes from shoulder-fired missiles are almost ready..."

The Reuters article, on, says that although the systems are "almost ready," the airlines and the government probably won't deploy them unless the public perceives an imminent threat. Translation: they won't be put into use until an airliner gets shot down by a shoulder fired missile.

From the article:
Airlines must have the technology to respond to missile threats -- even if they seem unlikely today -- said Walt Havenstein, who takes over as chief of BAE Systems in the United States on January 1.

"If somebody shoots a missile at one of our airplanes coming in off the Chesapeake Bay, and someone says 'Oh, that's what it was,' then life changes," Havenstein said at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington.

Jim Pitts, president of the electronic systems unit at US defense contractor Northrop Grumman, echoed the notion that implementation would be far more likely if the traveling public actually feared missile attacks on planes.

"Unfortunately I think a lot of it might be driven by an event," Pitts said.
Aside from fear, of course, one of the big issues is cost. We've been told again and again that to equip airliners with missile defense systems would cost about a million dollars per plane. The focus of discussion, in many cases, is not how much the systems will cost, but who will pay.

Airlines claim that if they have to foot the bill for more expensive security systems, they'll have no choice but to pass the cost along to passengers in the way of higher ticket prices and/or security fees tacked charged to each passenger. The airlines would like the government to absorb a good deal of the cost for missile defense systems, saying that "the broader public -- not just travelers -- benefit from airline security."

Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems are two companies working on laser-based systems to protect aircraft from infrared guided missile attacks. BAE's system, called JETEYE is being tested on a Boeing 767. Guardian, a system under development by Northrop, has been tested on Boeing 747 and MD-11 aircraft, we are told.

Source: Missile Defense For Commercial Planes Near -

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U.S. pilots held in Brazil to go home

This sounds like very good news: Reuters is reporting that the two corporate pilots involved in the mid-air accident over Brazil in late September may be allowed to come home at last.

Reuters says:
A court statement said Joseph Lepore, 42, and Jan Paladino, 34, would get their passports back after 72 hours, during which the police would take further testimony. The two must promise to show up when needed for the investigation and legal process.

"The measure of restricting the freedom of movement for foreigners is not backed by the domestic legal system," the statement said after the court ruled in favor of a writ seeking relief from unlawful detainment.
Until now, the pilots were prohibited from leaving Brazil until the investigation was completed. Their passports were seized by Brazilian authorities right after the accident.
Their forced stay caused a wave of protest from U.S. pilots' associations, who urged the Brazilian authorities to conduct the investigation under widely accepted international guidelines for civil aviation and not as a criminal probe.

"The judges noted that collecting technical evidence can take a long time, 10 months or even more. It wouldn't be appropriate to keep them here the entire time," a court spokesman said.

While officials and the Brazilian media were quick to accuse the U.S. pilots in the first few weeks after the crash, media attention has recently shifted toward air traffic controllers, who complain of an excessive workload, low pay and blind spots in radar coverage.
Still unresolved is why collision avoidance systems apparently did not work to prevent the collision between the two aircraft, which were flying at the same altitude.

Source: Brazil to let US pilots go home after crash probe - Reuters AlertNet

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Making airliners 'hijack-proof'

An interesting article on says that Boeing has a Canadian patent pending for "an anti-terrorist system that will automatically fly and land airliners if the flight crew is incapacitated or killed."
The "uninterruptible" autopilot will be activated by pilots or co-pilots flipping a switch, by sensors that detect excessive force against locked cabin doors or remotely by officials on the ground.

Once initiated "no one on board is capable controlling the flight," say documents related to the patent application by U.S. Boeing, the world's largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners.


The Boeing system will have an independent and inaccessible power source and once engaged, will fly the plane to a landing site, avoiding any large populated areas along the way, presumably in the event of the aircraft blowing up.
Commenting on this system, an article on the Aero-News Network says:
An autopilot that can fly and land an airliner isn't new, but one that activates itself when it senses excessive force on the cockpit door is (the crew may also activate it manually).

Even that feature isn't as controversial as this: once initiated, the system may not be disengaged by anyone aboard the aircraft.

Once engaged, Boeing's system will accept directions from ground-based controllers. The controversy stems from concerns over what might happen should the system malfunction -- or worse, should terrorists gain control of an aircraft from the ground.
Another system to make planes 'hijack-proof' is being developed in Europe. According to the article on
It includes installing ultra-sensitive microphones and cameras to monitor passengers in the cabin, digital fingerprints and iris scans for access to the cockpit, and an avoidance system to prevent planes crashing into buildings.
The threat detection component of that system already has been tested by Airbus.

Another article about these new technologies, on Flight, features a schematic diagram of how the Boeing system works (see link below). The system already has received a U.S. patent.

Sources: High-tech systems aspire to render airliners "hijack-proof" -
Boeing Patents Airliner Anti-Terrorist System -
Diagrams: Boeing patents anti-terrorism auto-land system for hijacked airliners -

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