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The U.S. Government and Aviation Security Threats Essay

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Updated: Mar 2nd, 2022

There are various reasons why aviation security has become a serious problem beginning in the 20th century. After modern man perfected the art and science of establishing airliners, terrorist groups, hostile nation-states, and criminal syndicates found the best platform for delivering their message or forcing others to do their bidding. Most of the time hijackers are motivated by extreme political or religious views.

But in recent times this method of blackmail and coercion has gone to the next level because hijackers are no longer content to simply use the subsequent media exposure to express their religious or political views, they can now use the airplanes as a huge improvised weapon. In this regard, the U.S. government had to adapt to these changes so that using airplanes as a means of transportation will remain to be the safest mode of transportation in the 21st century.

When hijacking coincided with the rapid improvements in aircraft technology and the creation of national airline carriers, the United States’ first response was to deputize air marshals (Agle, par. 12). The idea behind such a strategy is similar to placing a sheriff in a highly volatile town but instead of a small county, the air marshals will patrol a steel tube flying tens of thousands of feet above the ground. The only problem with the institution of air marshals is arguably in the human resources department because of the disproportionate number of commercial airplanes to air marshals. Thus, it was a common occurrence that if the threat level has been reduced the air marshal program tended to be relegated to a corner (Agle, par. 14). This should not be if passengers must regain confidence in the safety of the airline industry.

One of the most important strategies in improving aviation security is to leverage cutting-edge computer technology such as the use of networked databases and biometrics (Salter, p. 29). The purpose of these innovative solutions is to improve their ability to store data as well as the fast retrieval of the same. A secondary purpose is to be able to share information across agencies and if needed be across continents. Globalization has significantly increased the mobility of people and therefore it is much harder to track down suspected terrorists as well as men and women who belonged to America’s most wanted list.

Aside from the use of technology, the foremost weapon against hijacking and terror groups is the law. Thus, after 9/11 the U.S. Federal government created laws that would help secure airports. These are laws related to the Transportation Security Regulations such as the designation of specific areas in airports such as air operations areas, secure areas, and sterile areas (Wells & Young, p. 287). These regulations have made it easier to secure the airport while at the same time creating a deterrent for potential terrorists.

Steps taken to improve aviation security must be commended. It can be argued that the U.S. Federal government did an excellent job in responding to the challenge of securing airports. This is an almost impossible task considering the sheer volume of air traffic and the number of people moving across America and the globe. As a result, new laws and new technologies are being utilized to prevent terrorist attacks as well as to assure the public that they can still believe that air travel is the safest mode of travel in the 21st century. On the other hand, people must be warned against predictable human nature and this is the fact that when the threat level has gone down, the vigilance and need for continuous improvement also tend to die down.

It used to be limited to hijackings and bombings but after September 11, 2001, the whole world realized that aviation security threats have evolved into something deadlier and require great effort to control and mitigate the deadly impact of terrorist and radical groups. Hijacking an airplane is the preferred method of choice to get the world’s attention especially in matters regarding religious beliefs and political agenda.

Terrorist groups, extremists, and criminal syndicates will board an aircraft to hijack the plane and take the passengers hostage so that they can blackmail a government to release prisoners or pay the ransom. But after 9/11 airplanes did not remain as a tool to voice out their political and religious views it has now become an instrument of destruction when directed towards their foes. Today, aviation security threats have evolved to include “…hijackings, sabotage, shooting down an aircraft and assaults on airports and related ground facilities” (Harrison, p. 53). This is the main reason why the U.S. government must continue to improve aviation security.

The first documented aircraft hijacking occurred on February 21, 1931, in Arequipa, Peru when revolutionaries seized control of a small aircraft piloted by Byron Rickards (Agle, par. 10). Revolutionaries tried to commandeer his aircraft so it can be used to drop political leaflets (Agle, par. 10). In the 1960s hijacking became more common as hijackers targeted commercial airlines so they can be diverted to Cuba (Agle, par. 11). In the 1970s hijacking or skyjacking became more serious because hijackers are not only driven by political beliefs but by an extreme form of ideology such as the gun-toting zealots of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Agle, par. 12). This time around the goal was not only to seize control of the aircraft but also to destroy it.

One of the most common tactics is to use explosives against civil aviation (Harrison, p. 53). Many are perpetrated by non-state groups but three of the most deadly were carried out by states. These are a) In 1987 North Korean intelligence agents placed a bomb aboard KAL Flight 858; b) In December of 1988 Libyans conducted well-coordinated attacks on civil aviation; and c) In December 1989, attack over the Niger desert on UTA Flight 772 (Harrison, p. 53). But aside from using bombs the religious zealots of Al-Qaeda found a way to use the aircraft itself as a weapon that can destroy lives, homes, and even the American way of life.

From hijacking to sabotaging terrorist groups, extremists and criminals are now more aware of their capabilities. The U.S. Federal government is on its toes because the memory of 9/11 is still fresh. But what happens when this memory is distant, will it be possible to go back to the same state where the government and its citizens are complacent regarding security issues. In a highly global world, it is now more difficult to track down suspected terrorists.

At the same time, the complex nature of international airports can sometimes make it impossible to monitor them. It seems that no matter how dedicated an organization is when it comes to aviation security, there are simply not enough resources to provide an adequate deterrent mechanism for potential hijackers and saboteurs. The best thing to do is to continually maintain a respectable level of vigilance. There is also a need to improve technology even further so it would be easy to use and less expensive to maintain. Furthermore, there is a need to share data with other government agencies. There must be a way to communicate “sideways” so that related agencies can form a tight network in terms of improving aviation security.

Works Cited

Agle, D.C. “Armed and Anonymous: On your next flight the passenger in the seat beside you could be a federal air marshal.” Air & Space Magazine. 2009. Web.

Harrison, John. International Aviation and Terrorism: Evolving Threats, Evolving Security. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Salter, Mark. Politics at the Airport. MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Wells, Alexander & Seth Young. Airport Planning and Management. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.

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