A summary of ideas on how to stop commercial air hijackings without inconveniencing air travelers

Steve Kirsch, stk@propel.com  408 571 6317
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 maneuvers.
  • 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 problems). 
  • 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 breaking them)
  • 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 vest.
  • 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 knives forever.

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 country
  • 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 been done).
  • 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.

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