Center for Strategic Decision Research


Air Transportation Safety and Security

Mr. Alain Garcia
Executive Vice President of Engineering, Airbus SAS


As a transport aircraft manufacturer, I have elected to speak on ways to prevent or minimize the effects of terrorists taking control of airplanes. For decades, the civil aviation transportation industry has been the subject of attention as it matured into an autonomous entity. Until 2001, the industry worked to peacefully meet the external challenges of other modes of transportation and the internal challenges to find an economical balance between satisfying customers and caring for the environment. 

We all appreciated civil air transportation as a peaceful way to carry on trade, move goods, and visit distant countries. The industry had turned the dream of easily moving around the Earth into reality. But as we enjoyed the many benefits of air transportation, we also saw how easy it was to take over a plane and gain access to the crew. 

The events of September 11 turned our dream into a nightmare. While writers had sometimes imagined such scenarios, the terrorist attacks were real, with real people being killed. We cannot allow a repetition, even without mentioning the potential disastrous effect on the economy of a second occurrence! 


The aeronautical industry, together with its regulatory agencies, is developing ways to raise both the level of security and the level of safety of this mode of travel. We are analyzing what has taken place and considering means for preventing future incidents. 

We understand that when terrorists reach the interior of an aircraft, the situation is of major concern because of the vulnerability of the vehicle and the determination of the criminals, who may have worked for a long time to get where they are. That is why we need to consider hijacking as the final act in a series of acts preparing for a terrorist attack, and encourage any initiative aimed at preventing access to airplanes by people who present a threat. Prevention and dissuasion are the key words. 

Currently procedures for checking employees, goods, and passengers are being developed with a rate of success that is essentially linked to the known nature of the threats. Additional detection methods, including those that can detect dangerous products developed in secret laboratories, should also be pursued. Continuity of surveillance between the public areas, the airport facilities, and the airplanes themselves can and must be ensured. Airplanes can be fitted with means to identify personnel and access bridges should require identification as well. 

Within the airplane, in addition to detection devices, we need passive methods to minimize the risk to the aircraft and its occupants. Such methods have become a priority, and one such form of protection, reinforcing cockpit doors, should be in place by 2003. At Airbus we have developed solutions that fully meet the airworthiness requirements for all members of our aircraft family. These solutions include people-identification measures within the aircraft and other means to facilitate and secure communications within the aircraft. We are also studying methods to strengthen the aircraft structure. 

Active, defensive means are also being developed for use by airline crews. Debates have been ongoing concerning the consequences and circumstances of their use because of their potential punishing effect. One of the possible defensive actions, airplane maneuvers, would require proper crew education. 


So far I have covered airplanes as an entity but the environment in which they operate must be scrutinized and protected as well. Communication and defensive means are now being contemplated. The Air Traffic System is the natural channel for communicating about dangerous situations, but others might offer even greater protection. We are currently developing ATM alerting means that could not be cancelled once triggered and would be delivered, for example, via the AIC Transporter. 

The technology exists for providing different levels of communication between an aircraft and Air Traffic Control. But we must decide together which functions are most appropriate and develop them in a simple, robust, standardized form that crew members will be able to use under stress. 

Some months ago, the idea of taking over an airplane's trajectory by external means was broached. There are difficulties with this idea, not the least of which is the effects it might have on the pilot community. However, more thought should be given to this matter, taking into account the infrastructure needed to develop it, the time needed, the costs, and the low probability of its effective use. We are ready to debate the issue. 


I end my review of civil air transportation terrorism-prevention by noting that air force intervention would be determined by national defense decisions. I also end with two questions: Based on all the preventive means we are developing, can air transportation be strengthened enough to discourage terrorists from using it as a means of attack? And are there more accessible means? 

Let us work together to find out. 















Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research