Hijacked Ethiopian flight highlights pilot security

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Going through airport security in an American airport requires passengers to take off their shoes, empty their pockets, wait, get scanned and questioned. Getting on a plane can be an exhausting process, but the men and women flying the plane have it a bit easier.

"Unless it involves a firearm, there's very little a screening process could do," said John Huey, an aviation security expert based in Bethesda. "It depends on the country, it depends on the regime. Here in the United States we're coming up with protocol that will expedite pilots through security."

In 2010, the TSA announced an accelerated screening process for pilots.

"Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources," said TSA Administrator John Pistole.

Huey contends that the best - and in most cases only - way to prevent a situation where a pilot hijacks a plane, like this weekend's hijacking of the Ethiopian Airline flight, is for airlines to know and be aware of their pilots.

"It's basically situational awareness. It's knowing who your employees are and looking for anomalous behavior, looking for something out of the ordinary. It's like when you're in a Metro car and you look around to see if anything is out of place and if you see something out of place you call somebody. That's really the only thing you can do," said Huey.

That doesn't leave many options. Fortunately, Huey added, pilots don't hijack many planes - they typically go where they're supposed to.

"We've got over 50,000 flights everyday all around the world so this is an exceedingly rare occurrence, you're much more likely to get zapped by lightning walking down the street, much more," he said.

Pistole agrees, "Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day."


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