Two thefts of small planes renew security concerns
Some 19,000 small airports across the US have varied safeguards.
By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
NEW YORK – In the past two weeks, two small planes have been stolen and taken for joy rides. In neither case was the crime a national security threat, but some analysts note that in this post-9/11 era the thieves could have easily been Al Qaeda operatives and not teenagers out for a thrill.
That has again raised the question of whether enough is being done to secure the more than 19,000 small airports scattered across the nation. At the same time, the incidents also put into stark relief two challenges the nation faces as it tries to secure itself against another terrorist attack more than three years after 9/11.
The first is how to prioritize potential threats, determine which ones would cost too much to guard against, and then educate the public that they must simply learn to live with them. The second is how to balance the need for security against individual freedoms and commerce. Both challenges are evident in the $20 billion general aviation industry, which includes everything from small private planes to corporate jets.
"It's not enough to simply say you're going to regulate [the industry] totally - you can't because you'd end up destroying it," says Andrew Thomas, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio and author of "Aviation Insecurity." "On the other hand, you can't do nothing, because clearly it is still a very real threat given Al Qaeda's determination to use small planes in the past. We still haven't found the balance."
If that's not enough to make you feels just a little less safe, check out this column about the effect BRAC has had on the air sovereignty mission.
As of this writing, the only ANG units answering to First Air Force that are expected to retain both an air defense/air superiority role and mission posture are the 125th Fighter Wing, FLANG, located at Jacksonville IAP, FL, the 144th Fighter Wing, CAANG at Fresno Airport, Fresno, CA and the 177th Fighter Wing, NJANG located at Atlantic City IAP, NJ. The 125th and 177th Fighter Wings will continue their missions with F-15 Eagles (the 177th after it receives their primary assigned aircraft from three ANG fighter wings stripped of theirs), and the 144th will soldier on with its F-16 Falcons.
The reduction in the number of dedicated air defense units means that the continental air defense of the lower 48 will be carried out by just three fighter units. The entire west coast will be patrolled and protected from Fresno while the east coast will have a unit in the southeast corner of the country and another located in the Mid-Atlantic region. Alaska, considered to be a separate command, will lose most of its active duty fighter aircraft to realignments or retirements and there will be considerable holes in the air defense network there until the newer F/A-22 Raptors are assigned there later in the decade.
I don't believe for a second that the terrorists have given up on another airborne attack on US soil. They're just biding their time until the opportunity presents itself. Let's hope we don't hand them one on a silver platter.