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Metal detectors on airplanes and airline security: a brief history

Views: 0     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2021-12-29      Origin: Site

There were 159 hijackings in U.S. airspace between May 1961 and the end of 1972. The golden age of hijacking is often referred to as this time period. According to Brendan Koerner, author of the 2013 book The Skies Belong to Us, the majority of those “were between ’68 and ’72, five years, and sometimes they happened at the rate of one per week.” Koener also stated that “You could have multiple hijackings in the same day—it was not an infrequent occurrence.”

In 1959, the Cuban Revolution prompted hijackers to request that plane pilots be flown to Cuba, which was just 1,518 miles from the coast of the United States. Many hijackers thought that they would be welcomed as revolutionary heroes, receive protection from the newly elevated ruler Fidel Castro, and escape punishment from the U.S. government.


Addressing airport and airplane security

It was imperative to do something. In order to deal with this problem, the U.S. government decided to take action. However, its plans fell short. To make hijacked planes land at a fake Havana airport instead, one idea was to build one in South Florida. The plane's obvious directional indicators, the cost, and, well, windows may have led to the scrapping of this system.


In another more successful plan, an idea was derived from the military and prison systems of the United States. Sen. George Smathers, of Florida, proposed this idea at a Senate hearing in July 1968 to screen all passengers with metal detectors or X-ray machines. Several maximum-security prisons and sensitive military facilities are utilizing these relatively new technologies nowadays, Smathers said, with admirable results.


 FAA employee Irving Ripp discounted the idea, as he believed it would be detrimental to passengers' psychological well-being. There was no further inquiry regarding electronic screening from the senators.


Airlines decided to avoid violence-and the bad publicity associated with it-in an effort to reduce the financial impact of hijackings. They followed hijackers' demands strictly. Furthermore, all cockpits, regardless of destination, were equipped with charts of the Caribbean to streamline trips to Cuba. Aim was to reduce harm and negative publicity while making hijacking as painless and quick as possible. But that didn't work. Altogether, eleven hijackings took place in the first half of 1969.


Passenger screening and inspection systems

The problem needed to be solved better. A technological solution was thought to be able to reduce the overall complacency experienced by profiling alone. The senator's idea of a metal detector and X-ray machine reappeared. Using magnetometers to detect anything made of metal-as well as behavioral profiling, New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana became the first airport to implement these measures on July 17, 1970. Airlines personnel acted as the initial gauntlet for anyone flagged by the system, while U.S. Marshalls Service personnel investigated unresolved issues upon the use of industrial metal detector as airport metal detector.


From January 5, 1973, metal detectors and bag searches have been required for all passengers. 1974 was the year that the Air Transportation Security Act mandated the FAA's universal screening rule, which forced United States airports to implement metal detection systems for passengers and X-rays for carry-on bags.


In the past fifty years, aircraft hijacking has become much more dangerous than today due to the installation of walk-through metal detectors and baggage scanning. As shown by 9/11, American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami, and Tianjin Airlines flight 7554, security measures have significantly reduced hijackings, but have not completely eliminated the risk. We did, however, see a drastic drop in hijackings when compared to airlines that depended purely on profiling and human discretion.


As little disruption as possible to passengers could have been avoided if the airlines and federal government agencies continued operating as usual. During the first six weeks of 1969, as we saw play out for a short time, that decision could have endangered many lives and perhaps led to millions of dollars in ransom payments to an unfriendly nation.


This delicate balance can ultimately disappoint public expectations or desires if a security control is implemented to mitigate threats. Despite this, the industry may be able to implement it with the best balance of security and usability available today.

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