A summary of ideas on how to stop commercial air hijackings without inconveniencing air travelers
Steve Kirsch, firstname.lastname@example.org 408
Version 19. 9/20/01
This is a summary of the longer version of How to prevent air hijackings
Short term ideas
We should try out these low-cost/fast to implement suggestions on a small scale
to ensure they work, before deploying on a mass scale.
- Equip the crew with Myotrons that are specially modified so that they
don't work if they are yanked out from a crew member (e.g., the cord has a
"key" and the cord is attached to the flight attendant's belt)
- Iris scan all passengers so they can be checked against a "no
fly" list, e.g., the shoe explosive guy shouldn't be allowed to fly
again, even with phony papers.
- Let police officers fly for free if they carry a gun (with low-velocity
ammo) and handcuffs on board
- Immediately implement those El Al procedures that can be done immediately
and easily and inexpensively
- Put together several small teams of people with
complementary backgrounds and have them brainstorm ideas, and solicit input from
the public as well. Then try out the simplest easiest ideas first.
- Install a secure cockpit double-door system on existing aircraft so that
pilots are isolated from passengers (just like on El Al)
- Instruct pilots never to come out of the cockpit in the event of a
terrorist attack (just like on El Al)
- In the event of a terrorist attack, pilots should be instructed randomly
select one or more procedures to re-gain control over the aircraft. These
procedures could include: (a) tell the passengers to buckle up, and then do
random high-G force maneuvers, (b) dump the cabin pressure (allow pilots to
over-ride the limiting valve in an emergency situation), immediately take
the jet to 15,000 feet and land the plane at the nearest airport (c) gas the
cabin with sleeping gas, etc. Having an extensive set of
"procedures" (signal the sky marshal, de-pressurize, gas, G-force,
etc) and allowing the pilots to choose which procedure and in which order is
the most effective because it is harder for a terrorist to prepare if he
doesn't know what he's going to be hit with next.
- Require pilots to have CKA testing once a year (to avoid the Egyptian air disaster)
- Give crew members handcuffs to use in the event of a terrorist attack.
This is perfectly safe and can significantly hinder a terrorist.
- Adopt a "there is no such thing as a live hostage" policy
- Allow pilots to carry a gun if they are certified (what's the downside?).
Gun should have low-velocity ammo.
- Stop disarming the passengers...terrorists aren't going to attack people
with silverware. All we are doing is taking ridiculous measures that disarm
the public and leave the terrorist armed. A terrorist can easily bring in a
sharpened plastic credit card. And we've disarmed everyone on the plane to
make the terrorist's task even easier than it was before!!
- Forget the curbside check and parking restrictions. This just
unnecessarily and expensively inconveniences passengers and closes just one
small way a terrorist can attack. Not worth it. If we're searching the cars
before they enter the parking structure, isn't that sufficient?
- Require at least one plainclothes federal sky marshal on every flight.
Assign them to flights such that the marshal doesn't know in advance what
plane he will be on. The sky marshal can carry any FAA-approved weapons and
a very small oxygen-canister. To be certified, you must pass brain fingerprinting (a 100% accurate
"knowledge" detector that is impossible to fool...as seen on the brain
fingerprinting segment on 60 Minutes), and have special training
(otherwise a terrorist will enroll as a sky marshal).
- Instruct passengers that in a terrorist situation, they may make any
decision that they believe will minimize loss of life. For example, change
the official pilot's welcome message to be something like this (this is from
an actual United Airlines commercial flight...passengers applauded and
some cried after they heard this):
- "First I want to thank you for being brave enough to fly today.
The doors are now closed and we have no help from the outside for any
problems that might occur inside this plane. As you could tell when you
checked in, the government has made some changes to increase security in
the airports. They have not, however, made any rules about what happens
after those doors close. Until they do that, we have made our own rules
and I want to share them with you. Once those doors close, we only have
each other. The security has taken care of a threat like guns with all
of the increased scanning, etc. Then we have the supposed bomb. If you
have a bomb, there is no need to tell me about it, or anyone else on
this plane; you are already in control. So, for this flight, there are
no bombs that exist on this plane. Now, the threats that are left are
things like plastics, wood, knives, and other weapons that can be made
or things like that which can be used as weapons. Here is our plan and
our rules. If someone or several people stand up and say they are
hijacking this plane, I want you all to stand up together. Then take
whatever you have available to you and throw it at them. Throw it at
their faces and heads so they will have to raise their hands to protect
themselves. The very best protection you have against knives are the
pillows and blankets. Whoever is close to these people should then try
to get a blanket over their head--then they won't be able to see. Once
that is done, get them down and keep them there. Do not let them up. I
will then land the plane at the closest place and we WILL take care of
them. After all, there are usually only a few of them and we are 200+
strong! We will not allow them to take over this plane."
- Upon signal from a flight attendant emergency button (could be wireless),
and pilot verification on video cabin monitors, instruct t he pilot to have the passengers fasten their seat belts, then do
some high G-force maneuvers to destabilize the hijackers.
- Run an instructional video before the flight on terrorism instructing
people that in the event of a terrorist attack, to fasten your seat belt
while the captain tries to destabilize the terrorists and the crew attempts
to disable them (pepper spray, etc). In the event that the crew is
unsuccessful, we should instruct people to take any actions they deem
appropriate under the circumstances to minimize the loss of life both
on-board the aircraft and on the ground. Ideally, the scenario never
happens, but the mere idea of a gang attack should reduce the incentive to
hijackers. This is cheap to do and we know this works! When the Pennsylvania
passengers found out about the WTC, they took actions that saved thousands
of lives (had they done what "experts" advised, the White House
probably would have been hit).
- Put pepper spray/mace in the compartment with the oxygen masks. So, in the
event that the pilot and crew were unsuccessful in disabling the hijackers,
the captain can instantly arm all passengers with pepper spray just by
pressing a button! And even if the terrorists put on gas masks, the
passengers would have an excellent chance of removing those. This may sound
a bit draconian, but the very existence of the pepper spray and a mob attack
should act as a very effective deterrent. And nobody is forcing any
passenger to use the spray or get involved. And unlike guns, there is no
liability that someone will get accidentally killed by issuing all
passengers pepper spray.
- Equip the crew (and perhaps certified individuals as in the point below)
with pepper spray, tazers, or some other instantly disabling chemical/device to foil the
hijackers. No bullets, no fears of cabin depressurization, no loss of life.
This is an easy solution, it can be implemented rapidly. The Wall St.
Journal suggested the same thing.
- Isolate the cockpit with a secure double door system. Instruct pilots not
to leave the cockpit in a terrorist situation, but instead do G-force
- Require that the pilots never leave the cabin in a terrorist attack.
- Either gas or depressurize the
cabin as necessary to disable hijackers (both are not without their
- Enable a special "911" code on air phones. So anyone could call
in a skyjacking and fighters would immediately scramble and be absolutely
ordered to shoot the plane down if it did not cooperate.
- Instruct the flight crew how to turn wine glasses into sharp objects (by
- Put arms (e.g., guns with bullets that can injure people but not penetrate
the plane) in the cockpit
- Scramble military jets at the first sign of a course deviation from the
plan that cannot be confirmed with the pilot in 15 seconds (the pilot must
utter a secret phrase for the controller to believe him since the pilot
might be coerced into responding like nothing is happening. The absence of
the "safety phrase" means trouble.) This starts making life very
risky, very fast for a terrorist.
- Allow individuals (including pilots) who pass a very stringent set
of qualifications (training and security clearance) to carry concealed
weapons on board a plane that are loaded with bullets that can do bodily
harm, but not penetrate the aircraft. Of course, not all flights will have
people who are so armed, but nobody would know ahead of time how many such
people would be boarding a flight and that information would not be
recorded. Terrorists won't know if there are 20 armed people or none.
Terrorists don't like uncertainty. Over time, as more and more people are
certified, the chances of many armed and trained passengers increases.
- Train the pilots and crew on how to handle terrorists and provide them
with some sort of weaponry of their choice from an "FAA approved
list" (clubs, sticks, guns, tazer, pepper spray, mace, knives, etc.
might be put on the list). That way, the crew feels comfortable with their
"weapon" of choice, and a hijacker(s) would not know what he'll be
up against since the mixture of approved weaponry will change on every
flight depending on what crew is assigned to the flight. Just the thought of
being confronted with a completely unknown arsenal should be a very
effective deterrent. Above all, there must be a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for
terrorism to minimize loss of life (vs. the current "cooperate to
minimize loss of life").
- Pass out light-duty kevlar vests only to passengers who specifically
request them on boarding. In the event of an attack that isn't disabled by
the crew, these passengers would be more able to over-power hijackers with
less risk of bodily harm. The downside to this approach is that it may
create the impression that jets are so unsafe that you have to have a kevlar
- Give every passenger a two
foot long piece of 3/4 inch wooden dowel to use as a club. Less
likelihood of an accidental injury, easier to avoid the reach of an
actual terrorist's knife, and every bit as capable of disabling a
terrorist when used in numbers, plus the public would probably have less
qualms giving everyone a club rather than a knife. Besides, some folks
might think being beaten to death is a more suitable end for a terrorist
than dying quickly from a well placed knife strike. The clubs could be stowed in an elastic loop on the back of every seat
for handy access when needed.
Equip each passenger with a rubber hose, a bit heavier than a normal garden hose. When I was in
college, I just happened for awhile to have been carrying a left over
piece from working on a girlfriends car, one night after work it proved
to be a good thing I had it. It accomplished far more than a wooden
dowel would have, and I doubt those guys suffered any permanent injury.
If Nicole had one that night, I"ll bet OJ would have sworn off
Long term ideas
Here are some ideas that will take longer to implement. We should prepare a report on longer term solutions with
pros/cons of each of the most promising ideas. Invite
public comment. Then try them out on a small scale (cheapest/easiest ones
first). If effective, implement on large scale
- Use CKA to identify who has had terrorist
training and prohibit those people from entering the country and
traveling. This is the single most powerful deterrent we have and it's also
the cheapest. It is supported by leading executives and lawmakers. It's been
proven infallible by the FBI on similar tests. More info: http://www.skirsch.com/politics/plane/ultimate_summary.htm
- We already know how hard black boxes are to recover. Don't we ever learn?
Why not require a system such as FlightStat
to be incorporated in new commercial aircraft? FlightStat is a replacement
for the current "Black Box" Flight Deck Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit
Voice Recorder (CVR), in all Regular Public Transport (RPT) aircraft
worldwide that switches to "real time" ground contact when a
problem is discovered. Therefore, there is no longer an issue with trying to
locate a black box that either cannot be found, cannot be found immediately,
or is damaged when found. Their website is http://www.flightstat.org.
Note that the recovered boxes from the 9/11 crashes contained no data. This
system would fix that problem at very low cost.
- Use iris data as key into an FBI crime database and prohibit any passenger
whose iris data was entered by the FBI and tagged as "do not let
travel/enter into country" from boarding a plane and/or entering the
- Biometric screen each passenger and crew member to board the plane (right now,
you can easily switch your boarding pass after you get it). You can enter
you biometric data when you check in. Disallow people
to fly on the FBI "suspect" list (flying is not a right! FBI will
supply complete biometric data). If you
are a sky marshal, the iris scan/biometric scan will also indicate whether you are allowed
to carry a weapon on board.
- People who are on the FBI's "suspect" list can still fly if they
pass a brain fingerprint for terrorism. The test takes about 10 minutes. Do
not allow more than two "at risk" people on any given flight, search them
more completely, and completely disallow passage to people who are high risk
(according to the FBI).
- Require something like SAFE mode on new aircraft that are capable of category IIIC landings,
where, if a pilot has determined that the integrity of the cockpit has been
breached, either pilot can actuate this mode which will land the plane at
the nearest safe airport (the pilot will still get to pick
from a limited number of airports and runway approaches suggested by the
computer). Even if the SAFE mode had a 2% failure rate, this is still far
far preferable than leaving the cockpit empty or in the hands of a terrorist
who could use the plane as a bomb.
- Planes could be equipped with parachutes
to bring them down safely (you can parachute even a 747 to ground safely...it's
- If a plane deviates from it's course, and the pilots cannot be contacted,
ATC can call the airline and get a secret code for the plane. The code would
immediately cut the engines (perhaps both electronically and physical
damage) and parachute the plane down to the ground. Since ATC would control
when the system is engaged, the hijacker would not be able to know where the
plane will land.
- We could have each flight preprogrammed to accept only two sets of iris --
the pilot and copilot. An iris scanner would be mounted in the flight
console. If or when it detected an absence of those eyes, or another set of
eyes, the computer goes into autopilot, and cannot be overridden onboard.
Additionally: The autopilot is preprogrammed to take the plane to one of the
10 or so deserted Air Force bases, or even an active one. Then the plane
cannot threaten a commercial airport, and is in a secure area.