The U.S. government, responding to the recent upsurge in hijacking and apparent airline sabotage, announced new aviation security measures today including an expansion of the federal air marshal force, intensified searches of passengers and baggage and elimination of the popular curbside check-in service for travelers flying overseas.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth H. Dole announced these and other security procedures at an emergency governing council session of the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization. The meeting was also attended by transportation ministers from Canada and Britain who sought to underscore the urgency of concerted international action to deal with the latest incidents.
The French and Soviet delegates to the international body, which sets standards and recommends procedures for all aspects of civil aviation, endorsed their counterparts' calls for new measures.
Commission staff said they did not expect the 33-member council, whose president is Lebanese, to begin drafting proposals until next week, and even the transportation ministers acknowledged that some of the problems in getting nations to act in concert involved delicate questions of national sensitivites.
Dole and her Canadian counterpart, Donald F. Mazankowski, detailed a series of similar steps their countries were taking to ensure that bombs were not planted in baggage. The moves announced today followed the crash Sunday of an Air-India jumbo jet off the Irish coast in which 329 people died and the explosion at Tokyo airport in baggage being unloaded from a Canadian Pacific flight in which two airport workers were killed. Sabotage is suspected in both cases.
Dole said her department was requiring an eightfold increase in security training for flight and cabin crews on U.S. aircraft and will direct that one airline employe be designated as "security coordinator" on each flight. That crew member would be responsible for overseeing maintenance, baggage and other ground operations. She said it also would be necessary for service crews to be "far more carefully scrutinized."
In addition to terminating curbside service for international flights, Dole said that on both selected domestic and international flights, greater attention would be given to examining carry-on items even after they have been inspected by X-ray machines. She said that it would also be required that luggage be matched with passengers.
The administration is also ordering a 24-hour hold on all cargo, freight and mail on passenger planes unless an X-ray or physical inspection is conducted or the cargo being transported involves perishable goods from known shippers.
Many of the same precautions are being instituted hastily by Canada in the uproar over apparent security lapses following Sunday's incidents. The new measures have caused delays of from two to four hours to flights overseas.
Dole, mentioning President Reagan's suggestion that U.S. airlines temporarily discontinue flights to Athens in the wake of the hijacking of TWA flight 847, said she and Secretary of State George P. Shultz also were reviewing security of other foreign airports and airlines, which she and the other transportation ministers here declined to name.
Their reluctance to single out specific sources of security concern, clearly out of consideration for national sensitivities, seemed to underscore one of the several problems in dealing with the latest round of airline sabotage.
Britain's minister of aviation, Michael Spicer, said at today's session that existing international agreements were being violated as hijackers succeeded "in reaching safe havens." He said this encourage other air saboteurs but declined to specify to which countries he was referring. Nor was he willing to say what sanctions, if any, should be imposed on them.
Dole said all that was needed to "win the struggle against terrorism" was for governments to exercise the "necessary political will."
But Spicer, while urging tough steps, was far more somber in appraising what he described as a new "fanaticism, sophistication and ruthlessness" in terrorist acts that greatly surpassed the hijackings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. "No doubt some terrorists, some fanatics, will find ways around the measures we introduce," Spicer said, "and we will have to respond again."
Meanwhile, the Canadian government yesterday sent an airplane to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to pick up sensitive equipment that can hear the ping from the flight recorders that went down with the Air-India 747 on Sunday. The recorders and much of the airplane are believed to be about 6,600 feet under water.
And in Cork, Ireland, United Press International reported that the specially equipped British nuclear submarine HMS Churchill today gave up searching for the missing flight recorders after nosing around the crash site for about 24 hours.