The worst thing anyone could do with an airplane has now been done. Several times.
As this issue goes to press, just how the suicide hijackers will change aviation remains in a state of flux. Odds are that, when the dust settles, flying will be more like before rather than less so – that many of the flight restrictions will be lifted and pilots will again be essentially free to carry on.
However, in light of the fact that much of the general public now sees light aircraft as potential threats, all pilots can do a few things to minimize the chance that the kinds of episodes that happened with an airliner will happen with a general aviation airplane.
• Secure your airplane. Make sure the cabin door remains locked when youre not around. If your lock is suspect, as most are, invest in a throttle lock or prop lock to help prevent your airplane from being stolen and used for mischief.
• Keep your skills as proficient as possible. Airplanes that fly by the numbers on assigned headings are less likely to be perceived as threats than airplanes making low passes over the Ferris wheel at the county fair or flying haphazardly over reservoirs at low altitude. Long after the F-16s stop scrambling, the dividends of such an approach will be apparent in how safe a pilot you are.
• Cooperate with airport security. Many of us take for granted the ability to drive through a gate, cross taxiways and ramps, and park next to our T-hangar or tiedown. At many airports, ramp access will be limited, perhaps eliminated, for some time to come. Figuring out ways to defeat the security requirements makes life easier in the short run, but whats it say about the trustworthiness of pilots in general?
• Be a good neighbor. If you see someone sneaking around, dont just shake your head sadly and drive away. The airplane you save may be your own.
• Know who youre flying with. In a small fraternity like aviation, its easy to take everyone at face value and accept the bond shared by pilots – even without much proof of who youre dealing with. While an offer to go flying remains one of the surest ways to make friends of an airport stranger, practice a little extra caution.
That does not mean exercise immediate distrust of anyone with a Middle Eastern name or appearance. It does mean you need to crank up your B.S. filter.
Copycat psychos and other would-be martyrs have seen what an airplane can do. They dont have to be well-funded international terrorists to feel the need to make a splash, as it were. Theres no reason to make it any easier for them than it has to be.