Making the Skies Safe
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 28, 2001 The images of jetliners crashing into buildings are seared into the American psyche.
Many Americans developed a fear of flying from the events of Sept. 11. President Bush is working with federal and state agencies -- including DoD -- to make flying more secure.
"We must address the issue of airline safety in a constructive, smart way," Bush said Sept. 27 to a gathering of airline workers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. "For the sake of every passenger, every crew member and every pilot, we are going to make our airline security stronger and more reliable."
Bush told the crowd that the federal government would take over airport security. In the long run, this means airport security officials must meet stringent federal guidelines for training and background checks. These steps will require congressional approval and funding.
He said because legislation takes time, the federal government will pay to improve security immediately by having governors call up National Guardsmen and place them at inspection stations in airports.
Bush also announced other initiatives such as funding to strengthen bulkheads between cabin and crew compartments, increase the number of sky marshals and invest in anti- hijacking research and development projects.
He said the new technology includes such things as transponders that cannot be switched off from the cockpit, video monitors in the cockpit to alert pilots to trouble in the cabin and remote controls that ground controllers can use to land distressed aircraft.
DoD is also working to keep the skies safe. Since the attacks Sept. 11, DoD has flown combat air patrols over the United States. "We have made a number of adjustments in the combat air patrols," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sept. 27. "We do have aircraft on strip alert at any number of places around the country."
On Sept. 11, Bush authorized Air Force pilots to intercept and shoot down the hijacked airliners after it became apparent that the terrorists intended to use them as guided missiles.
If a hijacker took over a plane, and it became apparent that the same scenario could occur, Air Force pilots would be scrambled. The rules of engagement for interceptions would be determined at the highest level possible. "The chain of command is from the president to the secretary of Defense and then to a combatant commander somewhere in the world," Rumsfeld said.
"There are times when the situation is sufficiently immediate that the authority is delegated below the (combatant commander level) for periods of time, but always, in a case like this, always with the understanding that if time permits, it would be immediately brought up to the (combatant commander), and then to me and, if time still permits, for me to go to the president."
Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is no danger of U.S. military pilots firing on a commercial airliner without orders.
"The last thing in the world that one of them wants to do is engage a commercial aircraft," Shelton said. "And so, don't get the impression that anyone that is flying around out there has a loose trigger finger. That's not the case."