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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