Special Report: Aftermath

Are government and industry doing enough to make the sky secure?

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Airline travelers are now required to present a government-issued photo identification at the airport. A new company, Synaptek, is offering a system to make better use of that ID check. With a hand-held reader or desktop terminal, airline or security personnel would scan or enter data from passenger identifications. By encrypted communication, the device would then check to see if an individual is on any of a number of law enforcement or watch list databases. If such a system had been in place on September 11, some of the hijackings might have been thwarted, as some of the hijackers were on watch lists.

Passengers now face long lines at airports, but the NATA is sponsoring a system that could speed things up. Individuals would be pre-screened thoroughly for inclusion in a database of secure, trustworthy travelers. Then, like motorists who can pay tolls electronically and drive through without stopping, these travelers could quickly pass through special airport checkpoints. They would show they’re in the database through a biometric check, such as iris recognition. James Coyne, NATA president, says, “Security screening is finding a needle in a haystack. This system lets you eliminate most of the hay, so you can look closely in the smaller pile that still has the needle.”

Until recently, aviation security planning was largely reactive. A spate of hijackers who wanted to go to Cuba led to metal detectors and X-ray machines. Pan Am 103 prompted research, mostly still unimplemented, into bomb-hardened containers and cargo holds.

This time there seems to be an effort to anticipate threats. Honeywell, for example, is working on tamper-detection monitors for aircraft wiring. “We need to plug all the holes,” says Honeywell spokesman Ron Crotty. “Shut one door and they’ll look for another one that’s open.”



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