Aviation security measures have become more stringent since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but a recent report suggests that federal agencies might not be better prepared to handle another major in-flight emergency should it materialize.
The Government Accountability Office in an unclassified report to Congress this summer, said agencies lack a comprehensive document describing their roles and responsibilities for responding to in-flight security threats and what information would be shared amongst the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation and Defense. Procedures guiding the interagency coordination process are not uniformly established or shared and some agencies have not documented and applied lessons learned from interagency exercises, the report stated.
The GAO examined how agencies handled in-flight threats that transpired in 2005. A small percentage of these threats, which ranged from unruly or intoxicated passengers to passengers smoking in lavatories, were deemed serious enough to divert the aircraft from its original destination.
“Problems included misunderstandings of other agencies’ roles and responsibilities and untimely information sharing — due in part to a lack of clear policies and procedures,” the GAO wrote.
None of the threats resulted in a hijacking, possibly due to improved in-flight policies aboard airlines, such as locked cockpit doors and air marshals.
“I don’t think taking control of an airliner in flight is much of a threat these days,” says Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at Reason Public Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Los Angeles.
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