Bad ideas

Listening to All Things Considered on the way home this evening, I heard how Washington is celebrating the reopening of Reagan National Airport. Am I the only one who thinks this is a mistake? DCA (that’s its three-letter code) is dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with the recent terrorist attacks. No airport should be where it is in the first place. I’ve been there, and you can literally look out the terminal window and see the dome of the Capitol.
The FAA can tweak the security procedures and flight paths all they want, but it will always be insanely risky to have jumbo jets taking off and landing inside a city. DCA should have been permanently closed years ago, and I was hoping that after September 11, it finally would be. But apparently convenience still trumps safety in Washington.
NPR’s next story made me forget all about that by giving me something even worse to worry about. Since the World Trade Center was destroyed, I’ve seen quite a few harebrained and ill-considered proposals for anti-hijacking measures, but by far the worst is the notion of remote-control systems for airliners. The idea is that if a plane is hijacked, or the pilot incapacitated, people on the ground can send a signal to disable the controls in the cockpit, take control of the plane remotely, and land it safely in a secure location.
But if the FAA can seize control of a plane remotely, then terrorists can do it too. In fact, it will make their task much easier — now they can fly airliners into skyscrapers without putting themselves at risk. They won’t even have to go through the security checkpoint at an airport. Sure, you can build security features into the system, but can you guarantee that nobody can hack their way in or steal the password? The system has to be absolutely bulletproof, or you get a repeat of September 11.
Linda Wertheimer discussed this proposal with the president of the National Air Transportation Society for over four minutes, but it apparently never occurred to her to ask what would prevent terrorists from exploiting it. The closest she got was to suggest that terrorists could take over the control tower at an airport and seize control of airplanes from there. But why would they need to? All they need is the right kind of signal. I can’t believe anyone is taking this proposal seriously.

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