Air Transport World

Which bag is hiding the bomb? (policy on thermal-nuclear explosive detection technology is changing)

Picture this: London-bound Flight 1 of Pan Trans Airlines is 90 min. out of Miami over the Atlantic Ocean. The captain radios ATC that he has just discovered a bomb aboard the aircraft. A note says that the bomb will blow up in 1 hr. if the U.S. does not announce a change of policy in the Middle East.

ATC notifies an FAA security official, who phones the airline's headquarters. "Pan Trans," he says to the security director, "what do you plan to do about your bomb?"

This hypothetical situation illustrates the ongoing debate over explosive-detection systems (EDS) and security in the air-transport world. The debate has complex political, economic and technical facets that promise to pre-empt the spotlight on civil-aviation security for quite some time. Since airlines and airports are merely surrogate targets for governments rather than targets of terrorism per se, most airline and airport managements believe that the problem of aviation security should be handled by governments, a position that some governments have agreed with, to varying degrees.

Thus far, the U.S. government has handled the problem only to the extent of telling airlines and airports to handle it. "We are a regulatory agency," FAA Administrator James Busey reminded the President's Aviation Security and Terrorism Commission in April, adding that FAA has neither the resources nor authority to get into day-to-day security operations.

A heavy FAA role

That caveat notwithstanding, the fact is that FAA plays a heavy role in virtually every nation's air-transport system by its power to regulate the kind of security measures that must be taken for flights to the U.S., a market into which few major nations do not operate flights.

A confusing array of players-some reluctant-is on stage to share the security spotlight when it comes to finding bombs intended for airliners. To say that the security-equipment scent for airports is heavy with politics is a sizable understatement. Manufacturers in very competitive stances portray their technology in the most favorable light, while scientists with no commercial connections nevertheless have their own favored technologies. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.