- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Holes in security leave aircraft vulnerable to terrorist attacks despite numerous changes after the September 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report by the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA).

CAPA President Jon Safley said Congress needs to enact “major changes in the way the airlines and airports do business and in the way the government manages airline security.” The association represents five union groups of a combined 22,000 pilots.

The report cites deficiencies in cargo screening, arming pilots, federal air marshal protection and missile protection. Pilots are not given regular threat-assessment briefings, and self-defense training is lacking for crews.

“There is now ample evidence that the Transportation Security Administration is too dysfunctional to figure out how to do its job,” said Dave Mackett, head of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a nonunion group representing 25,000 pilots.

“Our independent assessments confirm what CAPA found — we have a $12 billion security system that is anything but secure. Bureaucrats in charge are ignoring cost-effective solutions that could really protect us. Congress needs to step in quickly or the greatest argument for change won’t be carried by thousands of airline pilots, but thousands of dead Americans,” Mr. Mackett said.

One official with the Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) called the report a “cheap union publicity stunt.” Another TSA spokeswoman pointed to a recent survey it commissioned showing that 82 percent of travelers feel “fairly confident” to “very confident” of airline security.

“While it may not be obvious to this union, the success of TSA in securing air travel is evident to the public,” spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said.

The CAPA report says airport employees, vendors and contractors are not subjected to screening when entering restricted areas. Passenger screening has improved, but there is no effort to update technology.

“If we’re screening passengers, we certainly need to screen employees who have access to aircraft and baggage,” Mr. Safley said. Cargo screening “invites disaster,” he added, citing an incident last year when a man shipped himself in cargo from New York to Dallas.

Miss Clark said airport employees are subjected to extensive background checks and pass through security screening in most cases.

The report also says planes are not equipped to deflect attacks from portable surface-to-air missile systems, but prototype testing is under way, and the association said additions may be forthcoming. It praises the work of air marshals but said they are “limited in numbers, and accordingly, can only cover a limited number of flights.”

Of 95,000 commercial pilots, 4,000 are trained to carry guns, a low number the report blames on bureaucratic hassles.

Miss Clark defended the pilot program, saying “thousands have graduated. If the application process were so overburdened, this amount of participation would not be possible.”

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