Threat Information Provided to Air Crews – Reliability = 25%
It should go without saying that threat information should be routinely transmitted to aircrews in an urgent manner, immediately upon receipt. The fastest way is via an emergency message to all airline dispatching centers for inclusion in a flight’s paperwork and immediate dissemination by digital radio to airborne flights; and, also to airline unions and security organizations, for instant emailing to off duty crews. Yet, three years after 9/11, many airline pilots, flight attendants – even federal air marshals – report their best source of new intel is CNN!
In some cases, government fails to notify the airlines of critical information; but, in many more, the airlines themselves, do not forward the critical information to their crews. Some airlines have now set up secure channels to transmit official warnings, but others have not.
- When the infamous “shoe bomber” attacked an American Airlines flight over the Atlantic Ocean some time ago, the Transportation Security Administration had already issued a bulletin warning of potential shoe bombs. But the bulletin never reached the flight’s crew. As a result, the flight’s captain had no way of knowing how dangerous the terrorist’s explosive-laden shoes were. When flight attendants and passengers defended the flight and removed the man’s shoes, they placed them in the cockpit with the pilots for the duration of the flight, instead of the area designated for bombs onboard.
- When multiple airliners were targeted by lasers in late 2004, and into 2005, pilots were told of the threat by the major news networks and provided nothing in the way of training or information to counter it. The FAA ultimately required pilots to report laser encounters (which, of course, they were already doing), but did not require the airlines to report them to their crews. Some did and some didn’t. The FAA never considered that airlines would hesitate to forward the information.
There is a confidential email address where crews may report security incidents to government officials; however, few crews know it exists. When crews report such incidents, there is almost never any response from the Transportation Security Administration, nor any follow up. This leaves crews with the impression little is being investigated, which is probably true, dissuading them from participating.
Either way, there is no central clearing house where crews may directly share threat or incident information first hand, or seek clarification on incidents they’ve heard about.
APSA has called upon government leaders to forward threat information, not only to the airlines, but also to pilot and flight attendant airline unions and aviation security organizations, and to require its immediate dissemination. We believe these organizations will do a better job forwarding the information to aircrews. So far, the government has not acted on our recommendations.
That said, we believe the situation is slowly improving; some airlines now provide formal government bulletins to aircrews, and organizations like APSA are also providing threat information from open sources. Crews are also using the rumor mill to share information on some levels anyway.
The reliability of crew threat information preventing a terrorist attack is, therefore, 25%, IF the information is published in a timely manner.