Safety: Airport security must be beefed up

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, federal officials have devoted an enormous amount of effort and resources to making airline travel safe. Though we all still roll our eyes and groan at the thought of removing our shoes and emptying every last metal object into the bin, in general, they seem to have done a good job.

But earlier this month, an apparently mentally disturbed ground crew member stole a 76-seat Horizon Air plane from the airport in Seattle. He flew around for 75 minutes, tailed for much of the time by fighter planes, before crashing into Ketron Island and dying.

It was a “one in a million experience,” one official commented.

Somehow, that is not comforting. Had the man, Richard Russell, been a terrorist, the death toll might have been high.

Russell was one of the ground crew service agents responsible for jobs such as handling baggage, guiding and de-icing planes. He was among the 900,000 aviation workers in the U.S. who undergo background checks described by former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation Mary Schiavo as “pretty rudimentary.”

Clearly, airport security measures and background checks need to be re-examined. That needs to be a priority for the FAA and Homeland Security.

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