Seattle Airplane Theft Prompts Terror-Security Worries

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The theft of a Horizon Air passenger plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport exposed aviation vulnerabilities that persist even after efforts to enhance security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Wall Street Journal reports. Experts say the incident, in which an airline employee took off Friday with the plane and then crashed on a sparsely populated island, will prompt a rethink of how to secure aircraft at airports. The employee, Richard Russell, had worked at Horizon Air for 3½ years as a ground-service agent and didn’t have a pilot’s license. Airliners generally don’t have locks on their doors or require keys to start. While there are procedures to secure aircraft, the U.S. aviation industry focuses on securing airfields and then authorizes employees with proper credentials to work there. Jeff Price, a consultant on aviation security, said, “We need to get out of the traditional aviation-security mind-set, where we think that more screening and more surveillance and more cops will solve this problem.”

Most airlines have rules about how planes should be stored overnight, but they can vary from carrier to carrier. The doors are supposed to be secured. To fly a plane, someone would have to know and follow a complicated sequence of tasks that include fueling, starting engines and programming the flight computer. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airlines, federal security officials and law-enforcement agencies have focused attention and spent tens of billions of dollars plugging gaping holes in aviation security. Airport security experts say co-workers are an important line of defense. Aviation security officials have increasingly become worried about insider threats. Regulators and carriers cooperate on voluntary reporting programs designed to prompt employees who are having mental or substance-abuse problems to seek help. Other workers are encouraged to let management know about difficulties confronting fellow employees.

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