Terrorism: October 27, 2003


The latest media fear is that corporate aircraft could be hijacked by terrorists and used as budget missiles, since security for them is generally less stringent than for the passenger industry. In the United States during 2002, more than 10,000 companies operated about 15,500 fixed-wing aircraft, from two-seat turboprop planes to jet behemoths that can carry 40 or more passengers from private terminals at the 5,000 or so domestic airports that do not handle commercial air traffic. Business jets make up nearly two-thirds of the total domestic corporate fleet.

Meanwhile, the chief of the US military's Northern Command admitted at the beginning of October that Air Force pilots practiced weekly and were psychologically prepared to shoot down civilian airliners in the event of another "September 11" style attack on America. Air Force General Ralph Eberhart refused to reveal detailed rules but said a very careful chain of command of both identification and final authority had been established to order a shoot-down despite natural hesitancy. Both pilots and ground controllers were screened to make sure they would not refuse an order to shoot down a suspicious airliner. Better cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies had minimized the risk of downing an innocent civilian passenger jet. - Adam Geibel


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