Airline passengers will face tighter security - including selective searches if they match secret “profiles” of potential terrorists - under steps recommended Wednesday by a White House commission on air safety.
Reducing the aviation industry’s fatal-accident rate by 80 percent over 10 years is the goal of the commission, formed after last summer’s TWA Flight 800 disaster and chaired by Vice President Al Gore.
To achieve its goal, the panel recommended a number of steps, including:
Tighter inspection of luggage by the end of this year to reduce chances of a bomb being brought on board. Both explosive-detecting machines and select inspections based on “profiling” of suspicious characters would be used to ensure that no suspicious bag boards a plane unaccompanied by the passenger who checks it in;
A requirement that infants and children under the age of 2 must wear safety restraints, which would force parents to buy them tickets for separate seats;
A requirement that the Postal Service advise customers that all packages weighing more than 16 ounces will be subject to inspection for explosives before moving by air;
FBI checks of fingerprints of all airport and airline employees with access to secure areas by mid-1999. The FBI is now upgrading its mechanical systems to achieve this.
In addition, the panel urged the Federal Aviation Administration to finish modernizing its air-traffic control systems by 2005 instead of 2012, the current target date, and to conduct more-thorough inspections of aging airliners to detect potential internal equipment failures.
The FAA issued a statement saying it intends “to see that the recommendations are implemented as quickly as possible.”
President Clinton termed the report’s recommendations “strong, and we will put them into action. We will use all the tools of modern science to make flying as safe as possible.”
U.S. commercial aviation is the safest in the world, with a fatal-accident rate of less than 0.3 per million departures. But the FAA projects that more than 800 million passengers will fly each year in the U.S. by 2007 - more than three times as many as in 1980. Meanwhile, “the threat of terrorism is increasing,” the report concluded.
While most of the recommendations are aimed at preventing terrorism, there has been no aviation terrorist incident since the TWA disaster, and the cause of the Flight 800 crash itself remains a mystery.
One step the panel recommended to counter the terrorist threat provoked controversy: “profiling” suspicious characters for inspection. The American Civil Liberties Union objects that such surveillance techniques are “invasive and likely to be discriminatory,” said Gregory Nojeim, ACLU counsel.
The Gore panel’s report states that no profile should be based on race, religion or national origin.