Wednesday, August 31, 2005

JetBlue and Sun Country airlines have installed surveillance cameras that allow pilots to monitor passengers in an effort to avert a hijacking.

The combination of bulletproof doors and the ability to see an attack from the cockpit will give pilots a better chance to make an emergency landing, airline spokesmen said.

“It adds an extra layer of security and comfort to the customers and flight crews,” said JetBlue spokesman Todd Burke.

Mr. Burke confirmed JetBlue has as many as four hidden cameras aboard its entire 80-plane fleet.

The technology was installed with little fanfare after JetBlue tested the systems using a post-September 11 Federal Aviation Administration grant distributed in 2002. Sun Country announced it’s camera system in August.

Nearly one dozen airlines received federal grants to test the systems for future use and it is not mandated by the FAA.

The 9/11 commission report stated it is not known exactly how terrorist hijackers gained access to the cockpits of the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

“Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit,” the report said.

Privacy advocates generally oppose the use of surveillance cameras, which they contend is not an effective tool against terrorist attacks.

Guidelines, they said, are needed to ensure surveillance cameras aboard aircraft do not violate a passenger’s privacy.

“This sort of camera surveillance system could certainly have benefits for pilots who don’t have a strong sense of what’s going on in the cabin,” said Marcia Hofmann, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Cameras could be used for a wider range of activities in the future making guidelines necessary now, so that, for example, they are not used in cabin lavatories, Miss Hofmann said.

With increased concerns terrorists could hide in lavatories to construct bombs, she said. “I can see why airlines might be interested in putting one in there.”

The camera locations are “very discreet,” said Mr. Burke, but none of the cameras on either airline are in lavatories.

Questions regarding Sun Country’s surveillance cameras were directed to Tony Loeks, safety and security director, but he was unavailable for comment. However, T.J. Horsager, the airline’s operations engineer, told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in an Aug. 22 article that cameras have been installed on seven of its Boeing 737-800s.

Nearly a dozen airlines were awarded a total of more than $3 million for the pilot program to find the most effective technology as part of President Bush’s effort to increase aircraft security.

Les Dorr, FAA spokesman, said the agency must certify the installation of the equipment, but that use of the technology remains voluntary.

Air Transport Association spokesman John Meenan said the benefit of cameras versus the cost has not been determined, but like every security idea from the government and private sector it needs careful evaluation before millions or billions of dollars are invested.

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