Airline Security Still Lags 8 Years after Pan Am 103

By Larson, Ruth | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

Airline Security Still Lags 8 Years after Pan Am 103


Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Security experts say measures to protect passengers and planes have improved in the eight years since the Pan Am 103 bombing, but gaps in the system still exist.

The explosion that brought down TWA Flight 800 has prompted comparisons with the terrorist bombing of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and raised concerns that it might have been possible to smuggle a device on board the TWA flight.

A presidential commission investigating the Lockerbie bombing recommended several changes in aviation security measures, many of which Congress incorporated in the 1990 Aviation Security Improvement Act.

But some major recommendations have yet to be fully implemented. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration still does not require airlines or airports to have bomb-detection equipment.

"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," acknowledged an FAA security official, who asked not to be identified.

"The biggest problem is the human involvement in operations," he said, particularly the system airlines use to screen their passengers. "They pay minimum wage, and . . . you get what you pay for."

Extremely high turnover rates among screeners make it difficult to keep them properly trained, so they know what to look for when X-raying bags.

A. Mary Schiavo, former Transportation Department inspector general, also cited a "failure of vigilance - just plain lax attitudes" - as contributing to security problems.

In December 1993, her office issued a report that concluded "the Federal Aviation Administration oversight of airport security systems and programs was not adequate."

Officials in her office tested security at four of the nation's busiest airports and in 15 of 20 tries were able to gain unauthorized access to secure areas.

A 1996 follow-on report, which has not yet been made public, shows that IG officials were able to breach airport security 40 percent of the time, Mrs. Schiavo said.

Another weak link is the requirement that airlines do what's called a "bag match" to ensure that every piece of baggage loaded on the plane was accompanied by a passenger. …

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