Consumer Reports on Aviation Security and the TSA

It's not on their website yet, and you'd have to pay to read it in any case, but the February 2008 issue of Consumer Reports has an article on aviation security. Much of it you've all heard before, but there are some new bits:

Larry Tortorich, a TSA training officer and former representative to the Joint Terrorism Task Force who retired in 2006, also says he saw problems from the inside. "There was a facade of security. There were numerous security flaws and vulnerabilities I identified. The response was, it wasn't apparent to the public, so there would not be any corrective action."

I've regularly pointed to reinforcing the cockpit doors as something that was a good idea, and should have been done years earlier.

Critics, however, say a stronger door is only half of the solution. "People have this illusion that hardened cockpit doors work, and they don't," Dzakovic says. "If you want to have a secure door, you need to have a double hulled door."

Consumer Reports searched NAS, the Aviation Safety Reporting System, and found 51 incidents since April 2002 in which flight crews reported problems with the hardened doors.

Most of them weren't really security issues: locking mechanisms failing, doors popping open in flight, and so on. But this was more interesting:

A 2006 study of aviation security by DFI International, a Washington, D.C. security consultancy, found that a drunken passenger kicked a hole in a door panel and that aircraft cleaners "broke a fortified door off its hinges by running a heavy snack cart into it on a bet."

El Al, of course, has double doors. But since the cost is between $5K and $10K per aircraft, the airline industry has fought the measure in the U.S.

The article also talks about how poor the screeners actually are, but I've covered all that already.

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 1:58 PM • 60 Comments

Comments

DibbleJanuary 10, 2008 2:40 PM

"But since the cost [of double hulled doors] is between $5K and $10K per aircraft, the airline industry has fought the measure in the U.S."

Some mistake there, surely? $5000 to $10,000 sounds in the "new set of tyres" ballpark for medium/large jet aircraft, and they get through their tyres at quite a rate, so that sum for a one-off door upgrade wouldn't bankrupt a major airline.

Or is someone in the article that Bruce quoted playing the trick of lumping all the little turbo-prop puddle-jumpers in with the Boeings and the Airbuses so as to make the rhetoric sound better?

SpiderJanuary 10, 2008 3:29 PM

I think the time has come Bruce to present a full proposal of how a good system for airline security should be set up. Given the current budget allocation, come up with a comprehensive report and have it published in a respectable publication. Focus on how the new system would succeed, more than on than on how lousy the current one is.

Might be a long thankless job, but i can't think of anyone else better prepared to do it. You know, if you have some spare time to save the world.

HarryJanuary 10, 2008 3:30 PM

@Dibble: airlines are EXTRAORDINARILY cost conscious, even more than it appears to the traveling public. I know someone who, as an MBA summer intern for a major airline, did an analysis of food & silverware for business class travel from New York to Tokyo. He determined that soup was never served on that route in that class so soup spoons in the silverware pack were unnecessary. By having the supplier remove the soup spoons the airline would save $50,000 a year. The airline ordered it done. Along the same lines, the urban legend about an airline removing one olive from their salads to save money is - according to the same guy - true.

So the airlines are being consistent when they object to $5-10,000 per aircraft as they regularly and rigorously seach for savings at that small level.

That doesn't mean they're right. They're not. This is a cost worth incurring. You'd think they'd've learned that already.

PS - to my mind the most important think about a secure, lockable door is that the pilots keep it locked even if hijackers kill crew & passengers.

DibbleJanuary 10, 2008 3:51 PM

@harry:

What you say re: airlines penny-pinching to the n'th degree sounds credible as a reason for their objections, albeit a somewhat poor one on their part.

Does anyone have any information on the state of play re: new airliners being fitted with double-hulled cockpit doors as standard?

That, at least, is one point at which the cost of fitting the door would vanish against the huge cost of the plane itself, but the thought does occur that airlines might object to their fitting as being an avoidable addition to the un-laden weight (and therfore to the operating cost) of the aircraft.

RoyJanuary 10, 2008 4:04 PM

They skimp on cockpit doors, which are well-proven as vulnerable, yet they are putting serious money into lasers to detect and deflect manpads (shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles) which have never been used in the US.

ACoupleofPointsJanuary 10, 2008 4:12 PM

"Most of them weren't really security issues: locking mechanisms failing, doors popping open in flight, and so on."

Not really a security issue? Don't these failures defeat the security of a locked door?

"... found that a drunken passenger kicked a hole in a door panel and that aircraft cleaners 'broke a fortified door off its hinges by running a heavy snack cart into it on a bet.'"

Were these issues written off as insignificant? It seems that incidents like these (planned or otherwise) would be a perfect way for an attacker (i.e. terrorist) to gain valuable intelligence on the real security offered by the cockpit door.

Has there been any requirements set forth to mitigate these vulnerabilities by reinforcing the hinges or the door panels?

Bruce SchneierJanuary 10, 2008 5:09 PM

"I think the time has come Bruce to present a full proposal of how a good system for airline security should be set up. Given the current budget allocation, come up with a comprehensive report and have it published in a respectable publication. Focus on how the new system would succeed, more than on than on how lousy the current one is."

That's the wrong granularity of problem to focus on. The problem isn't airline security; the problem is security against terrorism. I have said repeatedely that the right thing to do is to bring airline security back down to reasonable levels, and take all the money and spend it on intelligence, investigation, and emergency response -- things that have nothing to do with the paticular target the terrorists choose.

Airports and airplanes are the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. We're never going to change that fact, so let's go with our strengths.

AnonymousJanuary 10, 2008 5:55 PM

"El Al, of course, has double doors. But since the cost is between $5K and $10K per aircraft, the airline industry has fought the measure in the U.S."

Yeah, right -- the airlines will send ten times as much per aircraft to install inflight internet capabilities so I can search for porn at 30,000 feet but they won't spring a few dollars to make sure I arrive safely

AnonymousJanuary 10, 2008 6:01 PM

@Harry:

"So the airlines are being consistent when they object to $5-10,000 per aircraft as they regularly and rigorously seach for savings at that small level."

You mean they are replacing these doors every year?

Forced CostsJanuary 10, 2008 6:26 PM

@Harry

"That doesn't mean they're right. They're not. This is a cost worth incurring. You'd think they'd've learned that already."

You think security improvements are non-marketable? Passengers are too dumb to make informed choices based on their own criteria?

If the airlines weren't forced to comply with thousands of marginally-helpful regulations imposed by uninformed bureaucrats with political agendas, then they'd have millions to spend on all manner of improvements.

To support ill-conceived regulations which impose huge costs on the airlines' business first, and then to imply that they don't know which costs are worth incurring, is to demonstrate an acute misuderstanding of the economic effects of bureaucratic interference in the multi-faceted process of providing passengers with a high-quality, and safe, service.

AnonymousJanuary 10, 2008 6:33 PM

@Harry:

You argue the airlines are extremely cost conscious, and proceed to offer a number of operating expense examples (spoons, olives, etc).

Well, everyone is extremely operating expense sensitive. Heck, I'm sure even you would drive across the street to save $0.01/gal on gas.

So are airlines replacing these cockpit doors every year?

If they aren't, then $10k for one is completely insignificant over the life span of a $50 million aircraft, and even less over an entire fleet (e.g., American Airlines has a fleet of 700 aircraft. 700*10000 = $7 million. Let's say you decide you have 1000 days, about 3 years, to pay that, and you make 1000 flights a day. $7 per flight more will just about cover it. See also the comments about tires from another respondent, above.)

Paul RenaultJanuary 10, 2008 6:37 PM

@Harry, Anonymous:

I came here to ask the very same question, namely: do the doors need to be replaced every year?

$5K-$10K is a one-time expense, no? Less than the cost of a week's worth of flight simulator time. It's a mere pittance.

They could raise the airfare by, oh, I don't know...(250 seats / plane) * 2(seats used by two different passengers per day) * 6(days per week - to account for maintenance) * 52(weeks per year)...um, six and half cents!

Then, every year, they'd rake in a whooping $10K extra, by not lowering the fares! (Wow, they could even repaint them every three or four years!)

I guess that double doors would reduce the available square-footage behind the cockpit (by how much?), and they have some spreadsheet-calculated, semi-bogus revenue-generating-value for the two or three square feet this inexpensive measure would need.


DavidJanuary 10, 2008 8:34 PM

@Snyder:

OK, here's a suggestion for making aircraft security reasonably effective at lower cost:

Install hard cockpit doors. Require them to stand up to testing, which will involve things like kicking them and the frames, and running snack carts into them.

Aside from that, go back to the 2000 security measures. They are perfectly adequate.

You will notice that none of the September 2001 hijackers carried a gun. This means that it was perfectly possible for the passengers to stop them, and this did happen in the case where the passengers knew what was going on elsewhere.

The September 2001 attacks would be impossible to repeat, given August 2001 security standards, since the standard procedure has changed. The shoe bomber was stopped and restrained by passengers. So will any suicidal nutjob with a knife or broken bottle.

Michael ChermsideJanuary 10, 2008 8:47 PM

I am not an expert, but I suspect that the airlines' complaint about the double doors is not so much the one-time installation cost but the ongoing WEIGHT (and therefore fuel) cost.

Another KevinJanuary 10, 2008 9:07 PM

@Dibble

I don't know about Bruce, but I frankly don't give a rat's nether parts about reinforcing cockpit doors on the little turboprop puddlejumpers. If a party of terrorists were to seize control of one, they couldn't bring down a skyscraper. They could bring down the plane, kill a few people, and make nasty pictures for the 11pm news. But they've got much easier ways of making nastier wrecks involving more people and more unpleasant pictures.

Rick AuricchioJanuary 10, 2008 9:44 PM

But there's one problem that fortified doors won't solve.

Do they tell pilots "No matter what kind of screaming you hear in the cabin, you cannot open the door?"

How can anyone guarantee that a pilot will be able to hold out? Tell him to turn the headphones louder? Ignore any pounding on the door? Forget about the person aboard that you happen to know? How does the crew know whether the flight attendant calling on the intercom is under duress?

The problem just becomes one of intimidating the flight crew by causing enough mayhem in the passenger cabin.

Mark J.January 10, 2008 10:18 PM

It's obvious the problem is not cockpit door strength. The problem is 5-year-old terrorists. Stop them before they get on the plane and you needn't worry about the cockpit doors.

Well done TSA!!

GeorgeJanuary 10, 2008 10:33 PM

This actually is somewhat encouraging. Until recently, the "respectable" mainstream media generally refrained from publishing criticism of the TSA and its stupidity, most likely because they were afraid of Cheney, Ashcroft, or Gonzalez going on Fox News to brand them "unpatriotic." But recently the New York Times has published a series of articles that includes some rather harsh criticism from a former Homeland Security Inspector General. And now Consumer Reports is stepping up to boldly admit what is obvious to anyone who uses an airport.

This is a Good Sign that the iron grip of the bushista junta is loosening. It portends the end of a dark era in American history where a self-proclaimed "unitary executive" has redefined "patriotism" as blind loyalty to itself and has used liberal doses of fear to stifle anyone who dares to speak even obvious criticism.

Could the new administration that takes over a year from now possibly reconsider the whole approach to aviation "security," and work to create a system that's effective rather than merely intrusive and humiliating. I'm not holding my breath, but the chance of that happening would surely be much greater once the bushistas exchange their thrones for multi-million-dollar positions on the Carlyle Group and other boards of directors.

infospongeJanuary 10, 2008 11:28 PM

@ Rick Auricchio:
" Do they tell pilots "No matter what kind of screaming you hear in the cabin, you cannot open the door?" "

That is the instruction. Most pilots are also smart enough to realize that they're going to be among the first killed in the event of a suicide attack. Self-preservation instinct combined with training makes for a pretty secure system.

"How does the crew know whether the flight attendant calling on the intercom is under duress?"

Door cameras and peepholes are fairly common these days. I wouldn't be surprised if airlines are training their crews to use intra-cabin duress codes.

AndrewJanuary 11, 2008 2:51 AM

@ Forced Costs

"demonstrate an acute misunderstanding of the economic effects of bureaucratic interference in the multi-faceted process of providing passengers with a high-quality, and safe, service."

You seem to forget that it is the airlines that skimped on screener quality through minimum wages, no management support and just barely enough attention to avoid the $10K fines FAA occasionally dropped on truly bad screening. Result: 9/11.

The airlines are not interested in delivering a high quality service. They are interested in delivering a profitable service, with just enough quality that passengers will not defect to other carriers or modes. That means cutting corners. When you cut too many corners, safety inevitably suffers.

Redundancy appears to be inefficiency, even when it is in the interest of safety. Armored cockpit doors cost the airlines money. TSA screeners cost the public money ("9/11 security fee.")

Prime example: why bother having a co-pilot? How often do pilots become disabled during a flight? Without the FAA rule that co-pilots are necessary, I feel certain that airlines would dispose of them immediately.

Adding insult to injury, you seem to think that only governments have bureaucracies. I guarantee that corporations are equally capable of creating byzantine policies and procedures which destroy rather than create profit.

pelpetJanuary 11, 2008 3:40 AM

I believe that adequate airline security would be quite simple.

If you arm the pilots with firearms, there is no problem allowing people on board carrying knifes or other tings that could serve as close combat weapons. Sure, they could kill a few people, but that can happen anywhere.

Modern aircraft can land on autopilot. An emergency system that takes full control over the aircraft and auto-lands it on the closest airport when activated could prevent any hijacking of the aircraft.

The real threat is probably bombs. A system that detects chemical residues on passangers and luggage could probably probably handle large groups of passanges at once and invoke further screening upon detection, thus increasing the throughput of the screening.

pkJanuary 11, 2008 4:27 AM

Co-pilots (first officers) are not there just for redundancy. In today's complex, crowded sky environment it's not practicable to fly commercial passenger jets with a single pilot. During portions of a flight, both crew members are busy doing different work. Hence most aircraft are certified for two-pilot operations only.

In fact on long transcontinental flights (having two initial pilots plus two relief pilots), it's not unusual for all four pilots to be doing work at once. E.g., while the two flying pilots are preparing to land, the other pilots might be communicating to ground to get gate information, talking to the cabin crew, etc.

The CREW concept permeates every aspect of a modern cockpit. It's not unusual for certain flight controls / switches to be available only on the captain-side OR the co-pilot side.

Only certain small jets are certified to be flown by a single pilot.

Regarding the cockpit door:

1. Having a hardened door does not add real security. (Re-read Bruce's posting.)

2. On many aircraft there is no room to add double-door ("man-trap") without significant revamp of the cabin. Even then the benefit is questionable.

3. There are certain procedures the flight crew undertakes before opening the (single) cockpit door in-flight, for example when delivering meals to the flying pilots. There are also procedures in case a passenger attempts to penetrate said door (could be a terrorist or simply a drunk passenger.) These procedures add more to security than a "stronger" door.

-pk

DibbleJanuary 11, 2008 4:49 AM

@Another Kevin: "I don't know about Bruce, but I frankly don't give a rat's nether parts about reinforcing cockpit doors on the little turboprop puddlejumpers. If a party of terrorists were to seize control of one, they couldn't bring down a skyscraper [...]"

My point exactly; and also that the report wording may have been such as to use the situation of companies operating a handful of smaller, less dangerous aircraft as a strawman to promote the alleged reason for the larger operators/manufacturers not fitting security doors as standard on their craft.

Modulo, of course, the ongoing discussion re: extreme penny-pinching by the Bean-counters, etc.

TheDoctorJanuary 11, 2008 6:44 AM

To be Advocatus Diaboli:

What is the transported_to_hijacked_passengers_rate in air transport ?

Maybe its ignorable in comparision to other problems that cause loss of life ?


Hijacking is a political problem.

FreudJanuary 11, 2008 6:50 AM

Schneier Magnus wrote "Airports and airplanes are the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. We're never going to change that fact, so let's go with *out* strengths."

Typographical error or Freudian slip?

HarryJanuary 11, 2008 9:25 AM

@Forced Costs, Anonymous, Paul et. al.:

What I was saying is that airlines have a long history of cutting even small costs so when they object to $5-10K, it's not merely an excuse, it's a real concern to them. The point about weight is probably also a factor.

I didn't say I _agreed_ with the airlines. To the contrary I said I did not agree with them.

I have no inside information about how often doors are replaced. There's no reason to think it's every year. For all we know it may be the life of the airplane.

@Rick:
Obviously I agree with your point, since I made it already. The answer to your questions is yes, tell pilots this. Also emphasize the fact if they open the door they die, then everyone on the plane dies, then lots of people on the ground die.

Two questions:
1. Does anyone actually know how often, if at all, the doors need to be replaced? Since the airlines talk about a cost, rather than a cost per year, I inferred it was a one-time cost.

2. How much space do double door take? Are they far enough apart to create an entry way, such that someone going in needs to unlock two separate doors? Are they two door set 3" apart? Something else? Since the airlines have mostly discussed the cost without saying there's a space problem, I inferred the doors were close together and there was enough space in the area for the doors.

Forced CostsJanuary 11, 2008 11:35 AM

@Andrew

"You seem to forget that it is the airlines that skimped on screener quality through minimum wages"

You seem to have missed my point, which was that if the airlines were not compelled to spend millions of dollars to remain in compliance with poorly-thought-out and politically-inspired regulations, they'd have millions more to invest in their businesses. Skimpy screening? You can thank the FAA for absorbing the funds that would have gone to improve that.

"The airlines are not interested in delivering a high quality service. They are interested in delivering a profitable service, with just enough quality that passengers will not defect to other carriers or modes."

In a market unencumbered by thousands of self-defeating regulations, customers are able to choose the airline that they feel best meets their wants and needs; in other words, the airline with the highest quality service. Businesses which can't meet these demands and also turn a profit, go out of business.

When competition is allowed to function, airlines (and any business) interested in being profitable have no choice but to provide continually better service; to the degree they fail to do so, their competitors win their customers.

"I feel certain that airlines would dispose of [co-pilots] immediately."

So don't fly on that airline. Choose to give your air travel business to the airline that employs co-pilots. See what you just did there? You provided feedback to the business owners by taking your business elsewhere. Those customers who don't care about the extra safety provided by the presence of a co-pilot can choose to travel on the co-pilot-less airlines, and perhaps save some money doing so. (And like pk said, co-pilots are not there just for redundancy.)

"Adding insult to injury, you seem to think that only governments have bureaucracies."

Nah. Large corporations have them too, sure. But only governments can force people to be subjected to their bureaucracies; if a corporation tries that, you take your business elsewhere.

Rick AuricchioJanuary 11, 2008 11:39 AM

I really like the idea of remote-flown planes.

You get some guy remotely flying the plane to a neutral airport. Authorities board to the plane to remove all the dead passengers. Are the hijackers just going to shrug and wait for landing? Hardly.

As for whether it's even feasible to remotely fly a passenger aircraft to an unknown field, that's an exercise left for the lawyers---after something goes wrong.

AnonymousJanuary 11, 2008 11:53 AM

It's all a conspiracy by the passenger rail companies to get people to stop taking planes and ake the tain instead....

SRJanuary 11, 2008 12:05 PM

If hijacking is a risk that cannot be just accepted as is (which I'm not certain it is), then cockpit doors should be relocated to the OUTSIDE of the aircraft.

The only reason I can think of to use a cockpit door during flight is to use the restroom, but fighter pilots can fly long flights without leaving their seats. The solution probably involves tubes and vacuum, and likely is pretty trivial.

Real ID, reallyJanuary 11, 2008 12:09 PM

This will save us, unless the terrorists are over 50:

"The over-50 exemption was created to give states more time to get everyone new licenses, and officials say the risk of someone in that age group being a terrorist, illegal immigrant or con artist is much less. By 2017, even those over 50 must have a REAL ID-compliant card to board a plane."

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22598390/?GT1=10755

derfJanuary 11, 2008 12:13 PM

The TSA is even more of a sham these days, since airlines are outsourcing their plane maintenance to other countries. These companies don't do rigorous security (or even skill) checks on their employees.

Terry ClothJanuary 11, 2008 8:15 PM

@Forced Costs:
``In a market unencumbered by thousands of self-defeating regulations, customers are able to choose the airline that they feel best meets their wants and needs''

``If the airlines weren't forced to comply with thousands of marginally-helpful regulations....''

``To support ill-conceived regulations....''

``poorly-thought-out and politically-inspired regulations''

Which regulations are self-defeating? Which are marginally-helpful? Or ill-conceived?

Many (most? the vast majority?) of them are required because the public has no way of evaluating the cost of removing them. If the regulations about service intervals, training, quality of parts, &c., were absent, the public would have no reasonable way of assessing the cost of their absence until there'd been a few crashes. Even then, they couldn't tell when a previously-safe airline abandons those practices to cut costs---it'll take a few more crashes. An unregulated market works only in the presence of complete information.

One thing I'm continually amazed by is the thought that goes into odd habits or seemingly-bizzare standards of various trades. Some stuff that seems ridiculous is a vital safety factor once you know the activity as well as the pros do. It's _very_ instructive to read the version of the National Electric Code which includes rationales. A lot of people have learned by hard experience things the laity, or even journeyman practitioners, couldn't imagine are important.

Terry ClothJanuary 11, 2008 8:24 PM

@Bruce:

You might consider writing a letter to _Consumer Reports_. I subscribe to the magazine, and when I read the article I was disturbed by their unthinking acceptance of security-theater premises. The items they discuss are only peripheral to the costs of having pseudo-security vs. well-designed systems. I suspect the experts they called in all had some vested interest in the status quo.

Roger BinnsJanuary 11, 2008 8:29 PM

People seem to think that $5 increases in ticket prices are nothing. You have yet to meet American consumers. The airlines regularly do things like bump prices by $5. Sometimes the competitors follow. Sometimes they don't and the original airline loses enough bookings that they have to roll back the increase. Yes $5 makes that much of a difference!

For example see reporting like this: http://www.airtravelchannel.com/2007/01/19/...

Airline MechanicJanuary 11, 2008 8:56 PM

The TSA is just a federal job creation program. Some of the hijackers in 2001 were stopped by the screeners but they (the screeners) were forced to allow them on the flight because of existing laws. Also at that time it was legal to take sharp objects on an aircraft (pocket knives). As I said on another post...(The TSA's search procedures) only strengthens my belief that the only requirement for employment that the TSA requires is that you furnish evidence that you have failed an intelligence test in the recent past.
Regarding the 51 incidents with the doors; that is a really small number considering how many flights there are every day. An incident could be a light not working properly or a frayed lanyard. Stating that there were 51 incidents without stating the nature of the incidents doesn't have any value whatsoever.
Regarding the doors that someone manager to break; only two? It doesn't mention what type of aircraft they were. Was it a small commuter plane, or was it one of the interim doors that were modified while we were waiting for the reinforced doors?

Regarding Sept 11 2001:

Prior to 9-11 anytime that an aircraft was hijacked it went to some third world country were they made some unrealistic demands. That changed with the Islamic terrorist who planned carefully for years with their new and sinister idea.
There are holes in security in air travel, but we, meaning the airline employees and the traveling public are aware that we all have a part in keeping our eyes open for suspicious activity and that no one can call 911 when we they are at 35,000 feet and expect a policeman to come up and save the day.

Forced CostsJanuary 11, 2008 10:18 PM

@Terry Cloth

"the public would have no reasonable way of assessing the cost of their absence until there'd been a few crashes"

Really! I wonder how the regulators make their assessments? They must either possess superhuman intellects, or IQs vastly superior to all of us children whom they're protecting with their incomprehensible-to-us-mortals methods of 'product quality assurance'.

Maybe their mysterious ways are listed in the Necronomicon!

Ever hear of Consumer Reports Magazine? Exactly how is it possible for the writers of the artilces in that magazine to assess the safety of thousands of other services and products, yet impossible for them to do so with airline safety? Simply impossible to hire retired (or current) experts from the airline industry to contribute to excellent and thorough vettings of airlines' safety? Don't think so.

"An unregulated market works only in the presence of complete information."

Nonsense. Billions of people particilate in unregulated markets every day with hundreds of thousands of unregulated products and unregulated services, and not only are they unharmed as a result, but they are benefitted in innumerable ways. And not one of those people has "complete information."

Incidentally, that "complete information" (which is unattainable in any economic transaction, since, for example, 150 years from now, pertinent information may come into being, but you and all other participants in a transaction occurring today will be long dead by then, so if you hope to ever even buy a newspaper, you'll bu buying it without "complete information") is required for markets to function admirably was debunked as a falsehood in the 18th century! Time to bone up on the econ.

Nomen PublicusJanuary 12, 2008 6:48 AM

Why isn't aircraft security the responsibility of the airlines and airports? Why is the TSA funded by government?

While there is no direct cost to the airlines for avoiding proper security, we will continue to see penny-pinching and avoidance of responsibility.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 12, 2008 9:52 AM

"Why isn't aircraft security the responsibility of the airlines and airports? Why is the TSA funded by government?"

Because most of the risks are externalities, and won't be protected against by the airlines and airprorts.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 12, 2008 9:55 AM

@Rick:

El Al pilots never open the door. If a terrorist on the plane kills every passenger, in turn, demanding that the cockpit door be opened, it's a terrible terrible tragedy. But the pilots will not open the door.

Forced CostsJanuary 12, 2008 6:38 PM

@Bruce Schneier

"Because most of the risks are externalities, and won't be protected against by the airlines and airports."

Name one such risk.

Wilderness GirlsJanuary 12, 2008 6:40 PM

@Bruce Schneier

"El Al pilots never open the door. If a terrorist on the plane kills every passenger, in turn, demanding that the cockpit door be opened, it's a terrible terrible tragedy. But the pilots will not open the door."

There is actually a secret password to get them to open the door. When they ask who it is, you hestitate, and then quickly say "Landshark."

bobJanuary 14, 2008 7:27 AM

@Rick Auricchio, others: Although I have never flown a transport category aircraft, I suspect there are several things I could do to mitigate the sounds coming though the cockpit door that dont involve opening it. Barrel roll. Throw the yoke forward abruptly (everyone and everything loose slammed against ceilling). Raise altitude provided in the pressurization system to 25k feet so everyone passes out. Dump fuel and land.

Forced CostsJanuary 14, 2008 11:47 AM

@Bruce Schneier

"The risk to people in buildings crashed into by hijacked airplanes."

? Airlines can most certainly compete on the security of their planes, flights, baggage handling, and everything else (that they control) that goes into traveling on their airlines. How exactly would the security measure they would use to keep terrorists off of planes NOT work if the terrorist in question intended to crash the plane into a building?

"Excuse me sir, but is that your boxcutter?"

"Yes it is, but I'm only going to use to crash the plane into a building. I don't intend to use it for any other type of terrorist act."

"Ah. OK, well in that case, you're free to board the plane. Otherwise, we would have had to confiscate that boxcutter as a weapon, but, as everyone knows, we can't possibly hope to prevent 'building crashes' with out security measures. We'd need a regulatory agency to do that."

How silly.

"The risk to the overall economy."

Let me get this straight. Airlines have a responsibility to 'the overall economy' (I wonder if that could be any more vague, but we'll let that go.) That can't hope to be able to effectively discharge their responsibility to the overall economy, so a regulatory agency must be formed, to protect the overall economy. (Mind you, this particular goal of the agency is not to protect against any individual terrorist attack, but rather to allay 'risk to the overall economy.'

So if the country goes into recession, I guess we can blame the TSA/FAA, eh? Wow. And we wonder how bureaucracies get bloated.

"There are lots of externalities in terrorism security; I wrote a whole article about it here."

True. And irrelevant. The question was about airline security, not terrorist security in general (bridges, dams, etc.) The fact that a policy dealing with 'externalities in terrorism security' could encompass airline security does not mean that it would be the best solution. Even though you advocate against protecting specific targets, terrorists nonetheless love to use airplanes for terrorism, and Nomen Publicus asked ""Why isn't aircraft security the responsibility of the airlines and airports?"

There are thousands of 'externalities in terrorism security' which do not apply to airports, airlines, nor airplanes. That doesn't change the fact that airlines could deal with aircraft security much better than the TSA, and compete against other airlines' security policies in doing so, providing the flying public with better security at a better price.

Terry ClothJanuary 15, 2008 3:54 PM

@Forced Costs:

"'the public would have no reasonable way of assessing the cost of their absence until there'd been a few crashes'

Really! I wonder how the regulators make their assessments?"

Erm---is that a serious question? Just in case it is:

They do it by requiring airlines to, among other things, keep careful records of maintenance, including what was done, who did it, and, I believe, who manufactured the parts used. They evaluate the situation by, say, making sure the oil gets changed according to the airplane manufacturer's recommendation.

Sure, we could do away with the inspectors, and let each passenger evaluate the records herself (assuming the airlines would keep them, and make them public). But then she'd have to learn what was important for each aircraft type she'll fly, take the time to read and analyze said records, then decide which airline to use. Multiply that by N passengers per day, and suddenly having one inspection agency sounds like a real economy of scale. Having the one organization do it costs the private sector vastly less than leaving it up to each traveler, even if the agency is run by the (gasp!) federal government. (Think of the time lost to other economic activities when the passengers' time is taken by this analysis. At a minimum, the drop in magazine sales in the airport would be dramatic.)

Of course, if the airlines didn't reveal their maintenance practices, you're back to seeing which carrier crashes less often.

If you really think unregulated airlines are a good idea, you may want to buy your own plane. General aviation is still regulated, but a good deal less so than airlines. And the schedule is ideal.

Forced CostsJanuary 15, 2008 4:55 PM

@Terry Cloth

"Sure, we could do away with the inspectors, and let each passenger evaluate the records herself (assuming the airlines would keep them, and make them public). But then she'd have to learn what was important for each aircraft type she'll fly, take the time to read and analyze said records, then decide which airline to use."

Nope. See here: "Ever hear of Consumer Reports Magazine? Exactly how is it possible for the writers of the artilces in that magazine to assess the safety of thousands of other services and products, yet impossible for them to do so with airline safety? Simply impossible to hire retired (or current) experts from the airline industry to contribute to excellent and thorough vettings of airlines' safety?"

So, your passenger buys a copy of Consumer Reports, flips open to page 32, and glances at the #1 position holder in the article entitled "Airlines Security Ratings: What You Need To Know About Which Airlines To Fly". Her time spent: 30 seconds.

You got the part about economy of scale right. It's just that you draw the wrong conclusion thereafter. Here's the way to think about it: whenever you observe a problem that needs solving and you feel ready to say, "A government agency should do this so consumers/customers/citizens don't have to", replace 'government agency' with 'profit-seeking company(s)', and you'll find you've suggested a solution which proves, time and again, to bring better services to the public for a better price. (Just in case your think regulatory agencies provide their services for "free", think again.)

You'll never find a problem which can be solved better by a regulatory agency than it could be by private enterprise.

HarryJanuary 16, 2008 6:52 AM

@ Forced Costs says "whenever you observe a problem that needs solving and you feel ready to say, "A government agency should do this so consumers/customers/citizens don't have to", replace 'government agency' with 'profit-seeking company(s)', and you'll find you've suggested a solution which proves, time and again, to bring better services to the public for a better price."

Yes, until the profit-seeking company starts working with the industry it's covering. For example, the bond rating agencies, investment banks, insurance companies, accountancies. I could name recent disasters in each industry that resulted from this sort of problematic dealing.

Forced CostsJanuary 16, 2008 1:58 PM

@Harry

"Yes, until the profit-seeking company starts working with the industry it's covering."

Yeah, that never happens with regulatory agencies. Whoops.

If you don't trust Consumer review mag1, then don't buy it. Buy a copy of its competitor magazine, Consumer Review mag2. Etc.

Why exactly would a successful magazine shoot itself in the foot by "working with" (taking bribes?) the companies they're reviewing? Such a scandal would likely destroy the magazine. Have its owners suddenly developed a distaste for profit, and would rather go out of business? Don't think so.

HarryJanuary 16, 2008 10:21 PM

Forced Costs asks "Why exactly would a successful magazine shoot itself in the foot by "working with" (taking bribes?) the companies they're reviewing?"

I don't have to understand why, I just have to know it's happened. Some entities survive, some don't. Arthur Anderson scandaled itself into oblivion. Cosmo's beauty advice is entirely unreliable because of advertiser influence - yet people buy it anyway.

No single source can be considered entirely reliable. Having several sources (not too many, which makes research too difficult) improves the chances of getting good info; having the sources be a variety of public, private, nonprofit, will improve the odds further.

In some markets there isn't economic room for two private entities. *Is* there a reasonable competitor to Consumer Reports?

SpatchJanuary 17, 2008 5:18 AM

It appears the TSA has been listening to Bruce; they've adopted one of Bruce's terms: "Layers of Security." [ http://tinyurl.com/2acm5x ]. But, if you löök at the graphic, most of the 20 layers are disjoint. As Bruce has pointed-out numerous times, 1 passenger scooting through the metal detectors is enough to empty a terminal. And a simple "multiple tickets for different points in the security process" routine can still get a known terrorist through all 20 layers (and get you arrested if you put up a web site to prove it). It's broke!

If you click the link on the sidebar for "Biometrics," we see the TSA hasn't been listening to Bruce a lot: the TSA says "biometrics proves you are who you say you are." Biometrics doesn't tell them if you were recently recruited by a terrorist organization, and are on your first (and last) mission to bring down the Sears Tower.

As a frequent traveler, my favorite nickname for the TSA is the "Totally Stupid Agency." As the saying goes: "If the shoe fits, wear it!" (TSA adaptation: "If the shoe fits, take it off so we can scan, sniff and lose it").

Forced CostsJanuary 17, 2008 1:57 PM

@Harry

"Arthur Anderson scandaled itself into oblivion. "

And its competitors absorbed many of AA's former customers. Read: the free market, working.

"Cosmo's beauty advice is entirely unreliable because of advertiser influence"

Have you looked at a newrack lately? There's just a tiny bit of competition in beauty advice magazine category. Plenty to choose from. If you don't like Cosmo, don't buy it.

"No single source can be considered entirely reliable."

A single source. You mean like a regulatory agency?

"In some markets there isn't economic room for two private entities."

And whose fault is that? When a regulatory agency purports to offer the results of their investigations for "free" (which they aren't), then which source do you think a consumer of that info will choose: that which he mistakenly believes is free, or that which he correctly believes he has to pay for? Eliminate the forced subsidization of the reg. agency, and we'll see who produces the better information.

"*Is* there a reasonable competitor to Consumer Reports?"

Does there need to be? If Consumer Reports provides information that I, as a consumer, deem to be of sufficiently high quality and quantity for a sufficiently low price, why would I need there to be a competitor?

BTW, the answer is: thousands. Which industry? Automobiles? Car & Driver mag and Road & Track mag. Computers? PC mag and PC World mag. Fishing? Outdoor Life mag and Sportfishing mag. On and on and on...

HarryJanuary 18, 2008 9:31 AM

@Forced Costs writes (in quotes):
"There's just a tiny bit of competition in beauty advice magazine category. Plenty to choose from. If you don't like Cosmo, don't buy it."

And they all get far more revenue from advertisers than they do from readers. Competition doesn't help when they all have the same problem.


"A single source. You mean like a regulatory agency?"

There are sources other than regulatory agencies. A small sampling includes OMB Watch, National Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Project on Government Oversight. The existence of these organizations complement the regulatory agencies, they do not replace them.

Further, regulatory agencies have government powers including review, subpoena, law-making, and penalty. They're not called "the fourth branch, a combo of the other three" (i.e., legislative, executive, and judicial) for nothing. No private organization can replicate these function.

Please note that I am deliberately avoiding the political question of whether a particular agency in a particular adminstration is using these powers in a manner you consider appropriate.


"Does there need to be" (a competitor to Consumer Reports)?

The magazines you mention accept advertising. See my comment about Cosmo, above.


I have the feeling you've read economics but you totally discount the possibility that what is best for a group as a whole may not serve an individual member's immediate interests. Surely you've heard of the Prisoner's Dilemma? Two prisoners are interrogated separately. If neither turns in the other, they get 6 months each. If one rats and the other doesn't, the one gets let off, the other gets 20 years. If both rat, they get 10 years each.

Clearly the best outcome is if neither talks, but they have to trust each other a lot to achieve this. Government is, in a sense, our way of making the group members trust each other.

(And please don't do me the disservice of saying government doesn't always work that way. Of course it doesn't. But it works better than any other system.)

Forced CostsJanuary 22, 2008 1:15 PM

@Harry

"And they all get far more revenue from advertisers than they do from readers. Competition doesn't help when they all have the same problem."

"The magazines you mention accept advertising."

If a magazine takes paid advertising, its articles must be "entirely unreliable".

Wow.

"regulatory agencies have government powers including review, subpoena, law-making, and penalty...No private organization can replicate these function."

Nor should they. Neither you nor I has any right to information (owned by Company A) that can only be obtained by force (assuming there is no fraud.)

"Government is, in a sense, our way of making the group members trust each other." "it works better than any other system"

You'll never find a problem which can be solved better by a regulatory agency, or by any other form of State entity, than it could be by private enterprise.

JerryJanuary 22, 2008 3:09 PM

@ Forced Costs

I'm not going to bother quoting him or her, because he's a rabid libertarian and or an airline CEO. There are some people you cannot convince that (any) government does anything right. When someone has a minor point but will not accept their view isn't perfect, then you have zero chance of discussion. Better off talking to a brick wall.

He says that the free market would take care of safety. However, Consumer Reports gets its' safety statistics from... the FAA. Otherwise, there is no way in h**l the airlines would release their on-time and safety data. The airlines LIE about their on-time departure and arrival information anyway, e.g. by leaving the gate and then going NOwhere, sometimes for hours. This is only technically legal. Why wouldn't they lie to the public and the press about their safety and maintenance records unless coerced by a federal agency with fine powers?

Some travelers have a choice of exactly one carrier, so they are "taken advantage of" on price, service, flight availability, etc. ad nauseum. Without some governmental regulation such as safety and antitrust laws, in most small markets we'd all be flying OneBig Airline, standing space only, hold onto yer luggage, $15 extra for a hand strap or pole, take it or leave it. The so-called free market isn't even good in many cases, never mind perfect, but I suspect Forced Costs will never admit it. Don't bother arguing, folks.

KC CriticJanuary 25, 2008 8:47 PM

I just read the Cosumer Reports article.
I found it was a politically-correct view.The real key to security is close questioning of every passenger seeking possible security risks. This means that Muslims and Arabs are profiled. This is one central aspect of El Al's security.This is not mentioned by CR.
Also careful searching of hand baggage. Checked luggage is subjected
to a number of procedures. And each passenger is "patted-down" -men by men and women by women.
Until we face the fact that Islam is the enemy, we will be vulnerable.

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