Suicide attackers armed with explosives that can weigh as little as a cell phone pose a serious threat to the aviation system despite billions spent to tighten security, says USA Today. The simultaneous bombings of two Russian airliners in midair on Aug. 24 prompted the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to unveil new security and to order more aggressive searches of passengers. Vulnerabilities remain: There’s no reliable way to detect bombs under people’s clothing, and the vast majority of carry-on bags are not checked for explosives.
Officials have struggled to defend against plane bombings. Blowing up jets is a high-priority goal for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, which has tried to bring down planes with nitroglycerin poured into a bottle of contact lens solution and plastic explosives molded into a shoe. Many of today’s explosives would be nearly impossible to detect as long as the passenger carrying them was not flagged for additional airport security checks. “It’s a matter of time before what happened in Russia happens in Australia, the UK or the United States,” says Chris Yates, aviation security editor for Jane’s Transport magazine. Lawmakers are vowing to push for new equipment that can find explosives on people. “Puffer” machines that can detect minute quantities of explosives in the air around a person are used at nuclear plants and are being tested at five airports. The TSA cannot afford large numbers of the machines, and Congress has not allocated money for them.