A higher price for airline safety

President's plan: Restoring faith, travel, economy requires basic adjustments in expectations.

September 28, 2001

AIR TRAVEL security needs a fundamental transformation -- in procedures, equipment and especially in public expectations.

President Bush's plan to overhaul the airlines security system takes a badly needed step toward restoring confidence in the safety of flight and bolstering the beleaguered industry.

Major responsibility for airport and airplane security shifts from the carriers and local airports to the federal government. Armed federal marshals will be on flights, National Guard troops will patrol airports, federal uniformed officers will oversee airport security operations.

A federal grant of $500 million will go to strengthen airplane cockpit doors and limit access. Aircraft transponders, which allow ground controllers to track a flight, will be protected for continuous transmission.

These changes, and other measures to screen airport and airline personnel, will entail new costs and new obligations for air passengers and staff.

Commercial aviation, which has long relied on price, convenience and speed will have a new priority: security.

That basic shift in national perspective was made clear by the horrendous events of Sept. 11. Not only passengers and crew now accept a certain risk of air travel, but also countless people and potential targets on the ground when aircraft become terrorist weapons.

Investigative panels have stressed the obvious weaknesses of an air travel system driven solely by profits and based on avoiding costs. Airport security has been a toothless formality rather than a strict requirement. Frightening holes in the system -- like the failure to detect weapons carried onto aircraft -- are still evident.

Mr. Bush's proposals aim to "convince the American public that it is safe to fly," he said, because "one of the keys to economic recovery is going to be the vitality of the airline industry."

But protecting the freedom to travel will require new restrictions and inconvenience. Longer check-in times, carry-on baggage limits, fewer flight choices, and even more delays and cancellations are likely.

Remarkably, airlines are flying nearly 90 percent of flights scheduled before Sept. 11, although with far fewer passengers. With swift implementation of common-sense new security measures, Americans should be willing to return to the skies.

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