[NOTEBOOK]Lessons Seemingly Not LearnedThere is still a blind spot. Two weeks have passed since the World Trade Center in New York City was struck by terrorist attacks. Travelers stepped out to check the security system of airports in the United States, which was to be reinforced after the recent crisis. The outcome of the examination was surprising. The New York Times reported Wednesday that a passenger from Los Angeles heading for the Kennedy Airport in New York deliberately hid a pair of 14-centimeter scissors in a bag and passed through the security checkpoint. A number of passengers passed through two airports with school bags containing Swiss army knives and some flammable materials. People themselves demonstrated how the multiple numbers of terrorists could have easily board aircraft without any problems.
There are 450 commercial airports operating in the United States. Security check systems at most of those airports are no different from the ones that the terrorists departed from. Every day, 40,000 flights and 2 million passengers are exposed to potential dangers.
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered new measures in 1988, when an airplane belonging to Pan American World Airways Inc. exploded over Scotland, and in 1996, when a Trans World Airlines flight exploded in U.S. airspace.
At that time, problems were pointed out similar to those that have come to light recently; according to the auditors' investigations, a passenger could pass security checkpoints even with a hand grenade, and secret auditors entered security zones at airports without official identification cards 15 times out of 20 attempts.
Despite the strong security control measures ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration, recent statistics showed that X-ray scanners failed to detect deadly weapons 40 percent of the time. These problems could be blamed on the airline industry; it has been argued that using new and advanced equipment, recruiting experienced technicians and reinforcing education require more money and trigger air fares hikes, which would lower the number of passengers. For that reason, airlines are reluctant to see more stringent security.
The Ministry of Construction and Transportation of Korea recently came up with some new measures, but they were not for enhancing security preparedness. They were nothing more than caving in to demands of the civil aviation industry to do such things as discontinue unprofitable routes and make passengers pay the cost of increased insurance premiums. Are we really free from any safety problems?
Security checks in Korea are extremely strict, so much so that some passengers complain about the rigid controls. Still, we have to pay attention to an incident that took place in Japan, in which a civilian once hijacked an All Nippon Airways airplane with only a knife. The plane flew for several minutes under the hijacker's control.
How long will we leave airplanes at the risk of poorly equipped airports, as crowded as a market place? We also need to recheck restaurants, duty free shops and nearby parking lots thoroughly to enhance aviation security.
The writer is a staff writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Eum Seong-jik