Large US airlines fear terrorists less than security measures, aviation expert charges

November 19, 2002

SAN JOSE - Large US airlines are now more afraid of security measures than of terrorist attacks, an attitude that raises the risk of another cataclysm, according to an aviation safety expert.

Speaking at the 50th annual meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®), Dr. Arnold Barnett, the George Eastman Professor of Management Science at MIT, describes three components of the current airline viewpoint: Prof. Barnett is giving his lecture, "Airline Security: A Lost Cause?" at the San Jose Convention Center on Tuesday, November 19 during an INFORMS session, "Aviation: What Will Tomorrow Bring?" The session, including additional papers on airport capacity and congestion, takes place Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 8 - 9:30 AM in Room L.

Prof. Barnett is available for interviews.

The airline viewpoint does not arise from factual evidence about the terrorist threat, Barnett says. On the contrary, he asserts, it seems to fly in the face of such evidence. Of the three major terrorist attempts against Americans in the year following 9/11 - the anthrax scare, the shoe-bomber's attempt to destroy a transatlantic jet, and the shootings at Los Angeles International Airport - two were related to aviation.

Barnett defends his position by discussing two security topics with which he is familiar: checked-luggage screening and "profiling" systems to identify high-risk passengers.

Large US carriers refuse to close a widely publicized loophole in the positive bag-match program, he contends, notwithstanding new tests that show it can be done with minimal costs and delays. And the airlines want new passenger profiling systems to cut down sharply on physical security, despite serious reason to fear that the new profiling systems will not work and that there is no real way to test their effectiveness prior to deployment.

Noting that the Office of Homeland Security has said that further terrorism against the US "is not a question of 'if,' but a question of 'when,'" Barnett says he sometimes has similar thoughts about US aviation. But he sees two possible reasons for optimism.

The first is that Congress has taken a strong "hands-on" role in aviation security matters, mandating highly specific measures rather than leaving policy-making to executive agencies. Though Congress is under continuing pressure to back down, it has generally been resisting.

The second reason is the attitude of new low-fare airlines like jetBlue, Frontier, and Spirit, which are willing to go beyond regulations and voluntarily implement security measures.

"They focus on what can be done, wasting no time on self-pitying talk about what can't be done," says Barnett. "It is easier to argue today that these airlines are safer than their large counterparts than to take the opposite view that they are less safe."

Arnold I. Barnett has worked as a security consultant for both the FAA and TSA (Transportation Security Administration), and has been hired to work on safety issues by 5 airports and 13 airlines. He has received numerous major honors for his research on aviation safety and security, including a 2002 award from the Flight Safety Foundation that had previously gone to cockpit heroes. He has been cited in numerous media, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, and USA Today.

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®), is meeting from November 17 - 20 at the San Jose Convention Center.

The INFORMS 50th Annual Meeting, "The Silicon Valley Challenge," will include sessions on topics in numerous fields, including air safety, the military, e-commerce, information technology, energy, transportation, marketing, telecommunications, and health care. U.S. Secretary of the Air Force James P. Roche is scheduled as a plenary speaker. Close to 2,500 people are expected to attend.

The General Chairs of the convention are Dean David W. Conrath and Professor Burton V. Dean of the College of Business at San Jose State University. Additional information about the conference is at and
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®) is an international scientific society with over 10,000 members dedicated to applying scientific methods to help improve decision-making, management, and operations. Members of INFORMS work in business, government, and academia. They are represented in fields as diverse as airlines, health care, law enforcement, the military, the stock market, and telecommunications. 2002 is the 50th anniversary of organized operations research in the United States. 1952 was the year that the journal Operations Research and the Operations Research Society of America, one of the founding societies of INFORMS, were born. The INFORMS website is at .

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