The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • Latest Story
  • Time Line

  •  

    Security Rules Tightened for U.S. Airlines Abroad

    By Bill McAllister and Laura Parker
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, December 30, 1988; Page A01

    Declaring that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 destroyed "the balance" between passenger security and comfort, the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday imposed new security measures on American airlines that fly out of 103 airports in Western Europe and the Middle East.

    FAA Administrator Allan McArtor said the new steps, which require X-raying or physically examining all checked baggage and increased screening of passengers, may delay some flights an hour but added that he thinks the public will accept the inconvenience. The steps, which McArtor said "far exceed existing international standards," are to begin within 48 hours.

    McArtor's announcement came a few hours after President-elect George Bush pledged that if those responsible are not captured before he takes office, his administration will "seek hard" and "punish severely" those found responsible for the bombing. {Details, Page A22.}

    In another response to the Dec. 21 bombing, which killed all 259 people on the flight plus 11 in the Scottish village where the plane fell, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe called for more international cooperation, including by Middle Eastern nations, to find those responsible for the bombing. {Details, Page A22.}

    McArtor conceded that even the new security measures would not have detected the plastic bomb that is believed to have been placed in luggage aboard the Boeing 747 jumbo jet last week. "No system is, of course, 100 percent effective," he said.

    "The tragedy of Pan Am 103 is a global reminder that civil aviation, despite detailed and sophisticated security practices, can still be vulnerable to criminal or terrorist attack," McArtor said.

    Acting under the FAA's power to amend the "standard security program" of any U.S. air carrier, McArtor said he is directing U.S. airlines to conduct a "positive match" of baggage to passengers boarding their flights at the Western European and Middle Eastern airports "to ensure that unaccompanied bags do not get on board." In addition, he announced that the FAA is accelerating its delivery schedule for five sophisticated devices said to be able to detect "all known commercial and military explosives."

    The devices, called thermal neutron analysis units, bombard luggage with neutrons. This causes chemicals used in explosives, including so-called plastic ones, to emit detectable gamma rays. The devices cost $750,000 to $1 million each and have proved highly reliable in tests at San Francisco and Los Angeles international airports, McArtor said. "It is beyond the prototype stage, and it's operational."

    The FAA is to get the first of the machines it has ordered by June and hopes to have six by January 1990, six months earlier than previously expected, he said. McArtor acknowledged that some of the security steps he announced were requested by Britain and were similar to actions that Britain imposed at its airports shortly after the Pan Am bombing.

    The administrator said the overall security system is patterned after that of El Al, the relatively small Israeli-owned airline, which he said has one of the most effective antiterrorist systems of any carrier. El Al passengers often are required to show up two hours before departure. And their luggage is given detailed inspection, sometimes being placed in decompression chambers that will force the explosion of a bomb designed to go off when the aircraft reaches the low air pressures of high altitudes.

    The airline industry supports the increased security steps, McArtor said. Stephen Hayes, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, issued a statement for the industry pledging that the nation's international airlines will "comply fully."

    "But we think more must be done than simply placing additional requirements on the airlines," Hayes said. "The government itself has got to become more directly involved in meeting the threat."

    Hayes said the industry wants the FAA to assign more of its security personnel to Europe and the Middle East, regions thought to pose the greatest threats to airlines and their passengers. "And we think the FAA should impose the same security requirements on foreign airlines serving the U.S. as it imposes on American airlines."

    In announcing the new security steps, McArtor said his agency plans to increase its security inspection workforce by 35 percent over the next 20 months, raising it to 670. He did not say how the personnel will be divided between national and international operations.

    McArtor said the new security measures were not being imposed on domestic flights because "the threat appears to be more international in scope." However, he said the FAA has proposed additional security regulations aimed at tightening security on flights in the United States.

    McArtor would not say where the new bomb-screening units will be deployed other than "it obviously will be where we can get the most use from them."


    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar