Security in the Skies: Bush Tries to Federalize Airport Security—Is It Strict Enough?

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Yesterday President Bush asked the nation’s governors to post National Guard troops at airports as a first step totake federal control of airline security. Bush’s plan for heightened airport security after the September 11 attacksincludes National Guard troops at airports and thousands of air marshals aboard aircraft, to avert terrorist attacksand restore public confidence in flying.

Yesterday, during what looked like a pep rally to get Americans back into the skies at Chicago’s O’Hare InternationalAirport, Bush said he intends to station up to 5,000 troops at the nation’s commercial airports while the governmentprepares to step in. He also authorized $500 million in grants to the airlines to strengthen cockpit doors and studytechnology that would allow air traffic controllers to take control of a plane if the pilot was incapacitated. Theadministration already is borrowing agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and NaturalizationService and other federal agencies to serve temporarily as air marshals while others are hired and trained for thisrole.

But as President Bush seeks to restore public confidence in airline travel, some say the measures he announced areinadequate and do not take into consideration the wider picture of airport security.

After Bush’s announcement, the US Conference of Mayors appointed a task force to come up with further securitymeasures, citing airport security in Israel and France as a model. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle also pointedout that steps to improve security should be linked with efforts to provide unemployment compensation, healthcare andjob training. There have been more than 100,000 layoffs in the airlines and related industries since September 11.

Up until now, airport security has been handled by the airlines themselves, which contract with security services.These agencies tend to pay between $6 and $10 per hour, and in most cases do not provide any benefits, do not supportunionization, and provide what many employees and critics agree is inadequate training.

We have with us today Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, which was founded byRalph Nader in 1971 to seek an increase in air safety and security while protecting consumer rights. Hudson is theformer president and founder of the Pan Am 103 Victims Family Organization, and has been a delegate of Public Citizenon the FAA advisory committee for safety rule making since 1992.


  • Paul Hudson, Executive Director, Aviation Consumer Action Project.
  • Jono Shaffer, SEIU representative, represents airport security screeners in Los Angeles.
  • Matthew Duss, Seattle writer, who wrote a piece called “Lax Airport Security is a failure of the market”on Common Dreams.

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