Sept. 23, 2001 . . . and The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner offers its solution

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2001

At this point it is fruitless to consider what could have been done differently to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings of four commercial airliners and the resulting deaths of thousands of Americans.

For whatever reason, we simply weren't prepared to fight this enemy. But now we have an obligation to ensure this never occurs again.

From time to time, the proposal to put some sort of federal law enforcement personnel on planes and in airports has cropped up. They even were briefly used in the early 1970s as a deterrent during a rash of hijackings to Cuba. Recent events have forced us to look at these more seriously now as a widespread and long-term means to make our skies more safe.

Although it would not be fair to place the blame solely on airport security employees -- and we certainly are not -- these tragic events prove the stakes are too high to have anything less than professionally trained federal marshals securing our airports and airplanes in flight. It is no longer enough to rely on security employees provided by airports and airlines. What are the standards for these employees trusted with the flying public's safety? Without question, they are not the same level as required of federal law enforcement officers.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said last week that such marshals are inevitable.

''We expect before this is over there will be two marshals on every airplane. And the pilot or co-pilot is not to leave the cockpit regardless of what happens,'' Young said.

Having plain-clothed, armed federal marshals on each aircraft would be a definite deterrent. And if terrorists did try again -- we would be naive to think they would not at some point -- at least the passengers on the plane and the people on the ground have someone trained in law enforcement to fight for their lives.

Keep in mind, additional security efforts, as well as increased security already under way at our nation's airports, will not make air travel any quicker. Already, much longer lines are the norm at airport checkpoints -- which is a price of increased safety. Making our airports safer will take the cooperation of everyone -- airline employees, government officials and, most certainly, passengers. Be patient.

Young brought up another important safety point as we work to protect against additional acts of terrorism: Whatever measures we take to improve safety must include ensuring pilots can guide the plane to a safe landing, no matter what's going on in the cabin.

If necessary, the federal government should mandate reinforced, impenetrable doors that are locked from the pilots' side. But that shouldn't be necessary.

This is a step the airlines should take on their own, and a measure the pilots' unions should insist on for their own members' safety, as well as passengers' safety.

Yes, we recognize these measures are not free of cost -- either in passengers' time or actual dollars. In fact, surely they will be quite expensive, and that cost will be paid by passengers in increased fees and by taxpayers.

But consider this: What is the cutoff point for what we are willing to pay to ensure our air transportation infrastructure is safe? Knowing what we know now, how much would we be willing to pay if it meant preventing the events of Sept. 11, 2001?

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