Plane Crash in Austin Points to Vulnerabilities from Small Planes

By Lubold, Gordon | The Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Plane Crash in Austin Points to Vulnerabilities from Small Planes


Lubold, Gordon, The Christian Science Monitor


Thousands of civilian aircraft fly within the general aviation system every day. But there are few regulations, laws, or security procedures that would prevent a pilot with ill intentions from using a plane for evil purposes.

The crash of a small civilian plane into a building in Austin, Tex., points up national vulnerabilities as US officials begin to investigate the incident.

The crash was an obvious reminder of what a pilot with ill intentions can do with an aircraft, and it undoubtedly raises questions about the ability of the US military and Department of Homeland Security to respond quickly and effectively.

Thousands of civilian planes fly within the general aviation system every day. But there are few regulations, laws, or security procedures that would prevent a pilot with ill intentions from using the plane for evil purposes. The pilot, named by officials as Joseph Andrew Stack, was apparently disturbed and had ranted about various concerns before posting a suicide note online and flying his plane into an office building in Austin.

Few ways to prevent a suicidal attack

"There are no security measures for this," says Fred Burton, a counter-terrorism expert and vice president for intelligence at STRATFOR, a terrorist tracking firm based in Austin. "There are no counter measures to put into place that can stop this from occurring."

The response of the US government after 9/11 focused primarily on commercial aviation, not general aviation, he says. "We need to rethink how we're looking at this threat."

Although it is virtually impossible to protect American infrastructure from such attacks, a higher level of security around even small airfields and a different mind-set about general aviation could diminish the risk, says Burton.

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