New year’s resolutions: aviation safety and service

Airport Security Lines by Karl Baron,

Last week I wrote about the new draconian TSA rules which do little to improve aviation safety, and now things have gotten worse. TSA extended the rules’ deadline into this week, and some countries, following them for planes traveling to the US, haven’t been permitting passengers any carry-ons, not one.

In comments about the column, Frank asked, what could be done to stop another terrorist from bringing explosives on a plane. I was thinking of a broader question. “How can we really improve aviation safety and security, and provide airline passengers with reasonable standards of service in the coming year?”

As the new year begins, I’d like to attempt to answer the query, by suggesting some appropriate New Year’s Resolutions.

President Obama: The President should resolve to require the CIA, FBI, NSA, State Department and DHS to finally intelligently cooperate for the benefit of the American people. If he can force these agencies at last, to work together, and share their intelligence information among themselves and their counterparts in the world, as necessary, to ensure the safety of Americans at home and abroad, in the air, and on sea and land, he will have accomplished, to date, what has eluded every other president.

Had these agencies shared information, it’s doubtful Mr. Abdulmutallab would have been able to board the Northwest flight to the US.

Congress: After shaking my head in disbelief, in the last 10 days, at the actions of TSA, I’m convinced TSA has a desperate need for intelligent, common sense leadership. Congress should resolve to approve or disapprove Mr. Southers as head of TSA. If not approved, which seems unlikely, at least the position would no longer be in limbo.

It’s my opinion that Congress has abrogated their responsibility to the flying public for years. They’ve made ill conceived aviation law, and underfunded projects critical to ensure aviation safety and efficiency.

I call on Congress to resolve to:

• Stop passing aviation law in a congressional vacuum, like the “three hour tarmac limit.” Congress should use its legislative stick judiciously, and instead force the FAA to overhaul their regulations to ensure aviation rules and procedures protect passengers well,

• Increase funding of the new GPS based air traffic control system so that it can be fully implemented by 2015, not 2025, to make all US aviation far more efficient, less costly, and safer,

• Fund languishing airport projects, which will improve airport safety and decrease delays, such as projects like the one at Philadelphia International which has yet to be finalized or funded, years after a decision was promised, and more than a decade since the improvements became critical.

FAA: The FAA has been dragging their heels for years in overhauling work rules and training requirements for pilots, rules for airplane maintenance, ground traffic, etc. and airport improvements.

I call on the FAA to resolve to

• Immediately overhaul pilot work rules to keep fatigued pilots off the flight deck, and training rules to ensure that only qualified pilots are at the wheel,

• Upgrade aircraft maintenance requirements and provide far better oversight of the same,

• Overhaul ground traffic and other rules to improve ground safety and a fair treatment of passengers who have been unfairly “detained” in planes stuck on the tarmac for hours and sometimes even overnight,

• Approve and fund essential airport improvement so that years of delayed construction can commence to improve aviation service and safety.

DHS/TSA: Since their inception, these organizations have done very little, in my opinion, which actually improved aviation safety. Their record of failure speaks for itself. Apparently everyone other than DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano knows their “system doesn’t work.”

Acclaimed security expert Bruce Schneier reiterated this past week, “Only two things have made flying safer (since 9/11): the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.”

That’s not much for 8 years of work!

I call on DHS/TSA to resolve to

• Fix their terrorism lists; watch list, no-fly list, selectee list. These lists no doubt have people on them who should not be, and are definitely missing people who should be on them. If Mr. Abdulmutallab would have properly been on the no-fly list, Secretary Napolitano could truthfully have said the “system works.”

• Stop merely reacting to each uncovered threat, and instead proactively create an effective anti-terrorism program, with comprehensive psychological profiling as its backbone, carried out by substantially upgraded agents,

• Accelerate the carry-on x-ray software/hardware upgrade to complete it by Labor Day and eliminate liquid/gel restrictions,

• Immediately setup adequate privacy rules and procedures to protect the privacy of passengers undergoing “full body scans,” then accelerate their implementation, recognizing they can’t detect items hidden in body cavities,

• Stop concluding that high tech systems can cure all our security woes,  while low tech systems are worthless. I submit that implementing a dog explosives sniffing program could be effective and cost efficient, and screen passengers far more quickly than current “sniffers.”

Airlines: Most of the airlines are now charging fees for checked-in baggage, yet serious baggage woes persist. There has been no notable reductions in lost, stolen or damaged baggage in recent years.

Many industries have been successfully using RFID technology to track inventory for years. It’s about time that all airlines adopt this technology for baggage handling. Moreover baggage theft and contents pilfering continue to be a serious problem.

I call on the airlines to resolve to dramatically improve baggage handling, this year, by implementing RFID technology, and beefing-up supervision and security of baggage handling to reduce theft.

I have little problem with the penalties charged by the airlines for passengers who change their minds and want to cancel or change flights, having purchased a restricted, non-refundable ticket, except when I consider that the airlines allow themselves to inequitably cancel or change flights of their passengers, at will, with impunity. This needs to change.

I call on the airlines to resolve to accommodate their passengers’ schedule promptly, without additional charges, even if that means providing a ticket on another airline, whenever they cancel or change flights for any reason, which are incompatible with the plans of their passengers.