Airports on guard in response to terrorism



    Although statistically the chance of being on a flight targeted by terrorists is quite low, terrorism is a higher threat to American travelers than it used to be, said Mark Hess, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

    On December 21, 1988, terrorists bombed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Another terrorist group unsuccessfully plotted to bomb 12 American airliners, but killed one person in a test of their plan.

    About 700 people have died from terrorist explosions in the past eight years, a relatively small number compared to the six billion air-trips taken in that period, but large enough to raise public concern.

    “We fear a plane crash more than we fear something like a car accident. We may survive a car accident, but we don’t have a chance in a plane at 30,000 feet, and terrorists have picked up on that fear,” Hess said.

    The recent TWA flight 800 disaster, though not yet linked to terrorism, sparked public fear and concern. On July 5, President Clinton said that “we will require pre-flight inspections for any plane flying to or from the United States–every plane, every cabin, every cargo hold, every time.”

    That same day President Clinton also directed Vice President Gore to establish the White House Commission an Aviation Safety and Security. The Commission has recommended twenty specific actions to improve aviation safety in its initial report.

    “The Commission’s recommendations are definitely do-able,” Hess said. “They are reasonably well within the means of what can be done quickly.”

    Some of the recommendations require congressional legislation or appropriation, and may therefore take more time to be established. There are also some technical difficulties in immediately installing some of the equipment.

    “The delay, however, is minimal. They can all be done in a matter of months, not years,” Hess said.

    Many major airports have implemented a higher level of security. Travelers at the Salt Lake City International Airport now hear regular warnings not to leave luggage unattended, and identification is required to obtain a ticket from most airlines.

    “We have also increased checks of bags. It is not uncommon to have luggage physically searched now,” said Connie Hooper, security manager of the Salt Lake City international airport.

    Travelers may have to sacrifice efficiency for safety. Airlines recommend passengers arrive at least one-and-a-half to two hours before take-off to accommodate the additional security checks.

    “Most people seem to accept that it is for their safety and security, and take it in stride,” Hooper said.

    Travelers should not expect much of an increase in fares due to the commission’s recommendations. It is possible that the cost of flying might be affected, but with the one-half billion people flying per year, the increase would be minimal, Hess said.

    Devin Smith/Daily Universe

    SAFETY FIRST! Salt Lake International Airport employees check the bags of some airline travelers. Tightened security in response to the threat of terrorism at the nation’s airports have caused passengers some considerable delays

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