Legislation Aimed At Protecting Airliners Against Growing
US Representatives Steve Israel's
(D-NY) and Melissa Bean's (D-IL) legislation to protect commercial
airliners against shoulder-fired missile attack drew strong support
from the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA)
"It's vital for Congress to take action to protect the traveling
public from a very real terrorist threat," said Capt. Jon Safley,
president of CAPA. "These weapons have already been used by
al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. An attack here in the United
States could result in a double tragedy, with devastating loss of
life and a serious blow to the nation's economy."
Over the last three decades, about 700,000 shoulder-mounted
missiles have been manufactured in various countries around the
world. During that time there have been at least 35 reported
instances of civilian aircraft being targeted by such weapons.
Often referred to as MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems),
these missiles are widely available on the black market for as
little as $5,000 and have been fired at commercial aircraft in
Kenya and Iraq within the past three years.
"The MANPADS threat is real," said Safley. "Just a few months
ago, the FBI caught a major arms ring peddling these missiles and
other Soviet weapons in the heart of New York City. And the most
wanted terrorist in Iraq has posted detailed MANPADS information on
In March, an Arabic website used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
al-Qaeda's senior operative in Iraq, posted diagrams of terrorists
firing a missile at an airliner from a rooftop and described
tactics to evade capture afterwards. The site also displayed flight
paths and security perimeters at New York's John F. Kennedy
The Department of Homeland Security has invested $120 million in
a program to adapt military missile defense technology for
commercial use, in cooperation with Northrup Grumman and British
Aerospace Engineering Systems (BAE). Earlier this year, an American
Airlines 767 jet was fitted with a trial version of the
laser-guided system, which is expected to cost between $1 million
and $2 million per plane.
The proposed congressional legislation would require the
Secretary of Transportation to purchase the missile defense systems
to protect the nation's fleet of 6,800 commercial aircraft. Rep.
Israel has described the risk of a shoulder-mounted missile attack
as a "glaring vulnerability" in U.S. aviation security.
"We have the technology to handle this threat," said Safley.
"The expense of installing missile defense systems pales in
comparison to the price tags of modern commercial aircraft and the
thousands of lives at risk. We commend Reps. Israel and Bean for
taking the initiative to protect the traveling public and we urge
Congress to pass this bill quickly."