President Bush's proposals to safeguard the skies - and help US
airlines fill more than a paltry 40 percent of their seats - are an
extraordinary high-level gambit to restore public confidence in air
Mr. Bush's $3 billion plan to improve security, which he outlined
yesterday in Chicago, includes stronger cockpit doors and putting
many more federal air marshals aboard flights. He is also expanding
the federal role in airport security - a duty long left to
individual airlines. Still, the measures stop short of more-
controversial ideas, such as arming pilots with lethal or nonlethal
That the president himself flew to O'Hare International Airport
to unveil his plan underscores just how important the aviation
industry is to the nation. Since the Sept. 11 hijackings that
shredded America's blanket of security, air travel has plummeted,
carriers have laid off more than 100,000 workers, and the
industry's woes have cascaded into other sectors of the economy.
Early assessments of Bush's plan are that every little bit helps.
Whether his proposed safety measures will reassure the flying public
- and save the air industry from financial ruin - should become
apparent in coming weeks.
"Perception is 90 percent of it," says Richard Gritta, an
aviation expert at the University of Portland in Oregon. "If people
perceive they're safe, that's the important thing [to get them to
To that end, most federal officeholders are remiss, says Clint
Oster, an aviation expert at Indiana University in Bloomington. The
fact that Reagan National Airport in Washington remains closed -
and that few federal officeholders are flying these days - is
hardly confidence-inspiring, he says. "We really haven't seen much
in the way of demonstration of faith in the air system by [federal
officials] flying on it."
Bush's proposals follow a host of security changes already
ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Curbside checking
of luggage is no longer allowed, nonticketed passengers can't
proceed past security points, and everything from safety razors to
nail clippers are banned.
Those measures, though, have so far not brought many people back
to the skies.
Some of Bush's proposals can be implemented quickly by the FAA.
Others will have to go a slower route through Congress.
The president has clearly fastened on those measures that enjoy a
wide base of support among lawmakers and security experts: Make
cockpit doors more secure, improve luggage-scanning equipment, put
more federal air marshals on commercial planes. …