Time Capsule

Safety Beginnings

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In the Dec. 18, 1972 edition of TWA’s Today employee newspaper, an article announced a new security device being deployed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The X-ray equipment was called “Saferay” and it was used to view carry-on luggage and parcels. 

“It will in no way affect photographic film, recording tape, pharmaceuticals or other sensitive materials,” Sam Perry Jr. of the X-ray manufacturer Inflight Security Service said.

The systems were used in the new “concourse concept,” whereby passengers and their carry-on items would be screened at the entrance to the terminal leading to boarding gates.  The gates for TWA at LGA also served Delta and North Central Airlines.  “We expect the Saferay will reduce to a minimum the need for opening holiday-wrapped gifts for inspection at LGA,” Perry said.

The installation of the devices followed a deadline from then-Transportation Secretary John Volpe giving US airlines 60 days to implement a government order to tighten anti-hijacking procedures and inspect all hand luggage. TWA’s Today said the order also required stationing of armed guards at checkpoints around airports.  The rules affected 531 US and foreign airports where passengers boarded US airline flights.

The Air Transport Association supported the anti-hijacking program, but did not agree that airport security should rest in the hands of local authorities.

“The airlines have recommended and continue to believe that law enforcement officials should be federal rather than local, to achieve the necessary uniformity and responsiveness to properly enforce the federal laws,” the ATA commented. That wish came true.

Hijackings, unfortunately, are nothing new. The world’s first fatal hijacking occurred in 1939. Between 1948 and 1957, there were 15 hijackings. This number climbed to 48 between 1958 and 1967. In 1968 there were 38 hijackings, and in 1969 this jumped to 82, with eight hijackings on flights to Cuba in January.  Between 1968 and 1977, the annual average jumped to 41 hijackings.

Measures to prevent hijackings in the US began in the late 1960s. Sky marshals were introduced in 1970, but there were not enough marshals to go around.  By late 1972, the FAA mandated passenger screening be implemented by Jan. 5, 1973.  The screening was contracted to private companies. 

The screening obviously worked, especially in the US.  In the 1970s, there were 35 hijackings, 21 in the 1980s, 16 in the 1990s and 18 in the 2000s, of which four took place in the US on Sept. 11, 2001. The US government created the Transportation Security Administration in November 2002, mandating that all screening must be conducted by Federal employees. Under the Dept. of Homeland Security, the agency now employs 37,000 full-time and 14,000 part-time security officers, and screens 1.7 million passengers daily at more than 450 US airports.

But TSA is not well-liked and has come under intense and increased scrutiny over the years. Now with sequestration, the automatic federal spending cuts that took effect March 1, TSA will not be able to fill vacant slots in employment, which could make the process of security screening in the US even more time consuming. Of course, you can’t put numbers on time or dollars on the value of a secure and safe flight.

What is your opinion on the TSA, federal vs. private screening? http://atwonline.com/security/private-investigations

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