On the EDge: Who is accountable for airport safety?

OPINION – In this post 9/11 world, I thought the safest places on Earth were airports.

I mean, with minions from the Transportation Security Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, frisking us, looking at our naked bodies through special x-ray machines, and forcing us to the airport hours before boarding so we can jump through their hoops, I figured the last thing we needed to worry about was some bad guy stealing an airplane.

I guess I was wrong.

On Tuesday, a suspended SkyWest pilot stole an airplane from the St. George airport. He didn’t use a gun, box cutters, or threaten with a bomb.

All he needed was an old piece of carpet and some gloves, which he used to scramble over the fence to make his way into a twin-engine, CRJ200 jet airliner owned by the airline.

He didn’t get far, thankfully, but he was able to make his way into the aircraft, fire up the jet engines and taxi in a random pattern that led him to scrape the side of the airport terminal, crash through a security fence, and drive across some airport landscaping before coming to a stop, where he put a bullet into his brain.

The man was wanted by police in Colorado Springs who were investigating the stabbing death of his girlfriend, whose body was found in her apartment last Friday.

Now, you can write this off as the actions of a whack-job if you like, but, quite frankly, there is some responsibility here that neither the City of St. George nor the St. George Police Department is owning up to.

This is the second major incident at the airport in less than two months now—the first being a fatal early morning crash that killed four people on May 26—yet comments from city and police officials are rather nonchalant, if not downright flippant.

One account of the incident quoted the city attorney as saying that everything worked “just the way it’s supposed to.”


So, standard operating procedure is for nobody to become concerned after a man with a gun made his way to the runway of the airport, boarded a commercial jet airliner, fired the engines, and started moving it about, because it ended successfully when he capped himself with the handgun?

If only we could have been so lucky the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Airline, police, and city officials also seemed to shrug the incident off by saying it took special knowledge for the man to board the aircraft and start the engines.

Again, really?

Four of the 19 al-Qaida terrorists involved with the Sept. 11 attacks were trained to fly jet aircraft, the other 15 were used as musclemen to subdue the crews and passengers during those ill-fated flights on that tragic day.

It was supposedly a different world then, when the terrorists slipped through security checks unabated, even though some were on government watch lists.

Nobody took the threat seriously.

Today, they supposedly do, which is why we all gave up certain civil rights to travel in airplanes.

We allow government agents to feel us up as we pass through the boarding lines, look at pictures of our nakedness, go through all of our luggage, pull us out of the line for further investigation if we “look suspicious,” and, for the most part, do whatever they wish to us at the airport.

The job is left undone, however, when local governments and agencies figure that having one cop patrolling the perimeter of the airport after hours is sufficient.

That’s why it is unconscionable that nobody in St. George is being held accountable for what could have been a major tragedy had this man decided to take innocent lives with him, whether he had intentions of pointing the aircraft at Las Vegas or a St. George neighborhood.

Budgets are tight and times are tough, but what price do you put on human lives?

I’d say they’re worth more than a downtown carousel.

St. George, you got lucky.

Just remember, luck always runs out.


Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

No bad days!

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Firefly July 19, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Ed, you hit the nail on the head. When you have City, Federal (TSA) officials stating that there is no additional need for security at the airport, and that everything “worked like it supposed to”, it does indeed make one wonder what if it DIDN’T work like it supposed to? Then they would all be scrambling around to pin blame on evryone else BUT themselves. After the first incident with the four young men losing their lives, one would think that more stringent security procedures would have been implemented. No one is saying that around- the- clock security would bar other legitimate personnel from utilizing the airport, but strict security would have just made sure that it was only those legitimately allowed on the grounds. Sadly, with all the “denial” mentality from the City leadership (Police Dept, Airport Authority, TSA and possibly FBI), nothing will change at the airport. It is a sorry state of affairs of the mentality of the leadership of St. George. St. George is not the sleepy “little town” it was15-20 years ago. And yet the lack of leadership at the City level continues to live in the past.

  • Hugh Vanderborgt July 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Sorry, Ed. We can hardly turn every airport perimeter into an (ex) East German Border lookalike, with guard towers, dog patrols and armed guards. How about all other transportation hubs? Railway/Bus stations and freight train emplacements? School bus storage yards? It is about minimizing risks; not eliminating all remotely possible risk scenarios, of which this was one.

    • techguy July 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      However, no one has taken action to minimize risks at this airport.

  • Dr. Eward July 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Please don’t compare the Sept. 11th attacks to this incident. The horrible truth is that if someone is crazy enough they can pull off just about anything. Oh & by the way, the Carousel has already paid for itself & is now making a profit. If you ever venture out, please go see for yourself the hundreds of kids & families who enjoy the Town Center & Carousel everyday. If we didn’t have fun things to do in our beautiful town then we wouldn’t have the visitors & people moving to the area to support our local economy. Let’s not be quick to point fingers & lay blame. However, I do agree that improved after hours security at the airport & all public areas would be a huge benefit.

    • Murat July 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      The carousel is apparently turning a small profit but it hasn’t paid for itself and probably never will.

      • Phantom July 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm

        The carousel had a $26,000 profit in the first year of operation. It cost $300,000 to install, so it things stay the same it will pay for itself in 11.5 years.

  • kevin July 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    @Dr Edward umm sorry but the carousel is not even close to have payed for it’s self! From inside knowledge I know this to be true, please provide the source that told you this!

  • Dsull July 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    The first accident at the airport was a private pilot and friends who made poor choices leading up to their departure. No amount of security is going to stop people from making mistakes. Throwing this accident in with the sky west pilot trying to take a plane is sensationalizing the situation. You might as well start stringing the recent accidents on I-15 around the neck of the highway patrol.

    I’m not saying the event was unavoidable, it is the responsibility of the Aircraft owner to secure their aircraft. Our plane is secured in a hanger without the keys. When it is on the ramp, it is locked down. Skywest should have secured their plane.

    I will say that they are quite on top of things during the day, if we are even sitting in our hanger, they come by and make sure we have our security badges. The problem is a lack of funding to keep multiple people patrolling 6 miles worth of fence line. I’m sure those of you complaining the loudest will be welcome to volunteer there.

  • Phantom July 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    The amount of damage done to the terminal building and to the CRJ200 ($24 to $40 million aircraft) probably would have paid for a lot of security for many years.

  • JS July 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Oh for heaven’s sake! What difference does it make if the carousel has paid for itself or not?!?!

    The point he is making is that this could have become a very serious situation had the guy not offed himself. Security clearly needs to be stepped up out there.

    Point well taken, Ed.

  • K804 July 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    No amount of “security” can eliminate criminal activity. Just ask local banks about robberies, the local police about vandalism, and your local store about shoplifters. No amount of “security” can eliminate legitimate pilots from accessing their own aircraft. If what you purport is the case, four people would NOT have died if that accident would have occurred on a Thursday morning at 10:00am. Until the final accident report is issued, we won’t know. I, however, would suspect that if four people died on impact at 1:00am would also have died on impact at 10:00am. There are literally thousands of government-run airports of many sizes across the country that DO NOT HAVE any type of rescue personnel on airport property. The small piston airplane such as the C172 takeoff and land at these airports at all hours of the day and night.

    In other words, the responsibility is on the pilot in command to operate their aircraft in a safe manner regardless of any other variable just as it is a driver’s responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe manner when on a government funded highway. Big Brother cannot and should not assess your condition prior to operation of your vehicle. Furthermore, if you wreck your vehicle in a ditch at 1:00am in rural Utah or Alaska, Florida or Maine, there may not be rescue personnel nearby and someone may not find you for hours or even days. What do you propose we do about that to prevent needless death and destruction?

    Hint, more government is not the answer.

  • Mark July 20, 2012 at 8:56 am

    A correction Ed, her body was found in HIS apartment. And now a comment, the two incidents are ONLY related in the fact that they both happened at the St George airport, that is all.

  • Space Cadet July 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    First, I agree with K084. Criminals do what criminals do. There is no way possible to prevent, completely, criminal activity unless you lock everyone up when they are not at work, and escort them around when they are awake. Silly, right? It is usually the crybabies who think that life should be lived with zero risk. People with long hair run the risk of getting it caught in something like a drill press. That same person will sue the maker of the drill press because personal responsibility is not in their vocabulary. Should the government hold someone responsible for making sure that the long hair is safely under wraps?
    There is no one in St. George who should be held responsible for the two (completely unrelated) incidents at the airport, other than the individuals who perpetrated the actions – that’s it. It’s very simple. I for one do not want to walk around in bubble-wrap for my own safety. The government will not protect our own borders from illegal entry from any foreign nationals, how do you expect anyone to protect your insecure existence at a small municipal airport? Quit blaming people for stuff that is out of the control of anyone but an omnipotent being and live your life without fear. But make sure you put your helmet on… there are cracks in the sidewalks.

    • Murat July 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      A deranged man almost took off from our airport in a passenger jet loaded with fuel. It’s obvious that the security there is lacking in sophistication and numbers.

      • Dsull July 20, 2012 at 9:35 pm

        Actually the plane had almost no fuel. They don’t store fuel in the plane when it is down for maintenance. Even if there was security it is unlikely they would have stopped him. He knew as a sky west pilot how to get into the plane and start it. I would bet 100 dollars that you couldn’t get into it let alone start it.

  • Space Cadet July 21, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Dsull is correct. It takes a specific skill set to be able to get the cabin door open and perform the engine start-up sequence. Aircraft mechanics and and pilots have that ability. Most people can’t figure out how to put a bag in the overhead bin, much less start a sophisticated aircraft. So to think that there is a real threat from the general public is somewhat alarmist. That is not an issue.

  • Ed Kociela July 21, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Space Cadet: It IS an issue when you remember that you can go learn those skills at aviation school, much as the terrorist bunch did.

    • Dsull July 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Yes, and thousands of others just like me. The simple fact is a person who a year ago was a normal, hard working pilot for Skywest went off the deep end and used his knowledge badly. No matter how much Security you try and enforce, people will be able to bypass it. Currently I have to carry a security card to be able to sit in a hanger that I built, and have access to the aircraft I purchased. No other group has to deal with this.
      Let’s point out that there have been more bombings using cars and boats than Aircraft. Beyond that, more bombings are carried out, by people and a backpack. Following your train of thought, we need more security to have access to cars, boats, and backpacks. The damage and death toll caused by these activities by far surpasses that of aircraft.
      I’m not condoning the act on 9/11, nor Oklahoma City, or any other act of terror. But no amount of security is going to eliminate these threats.

    • K804 July 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

      Ed (& Murat),
      You appear to live in the ‘What-if?’ world. I’m going to list some possible real-world disaster scenarios and you tell me what best way to prevent them from actually happening since in the ‘What-if?’ world, anything can happen. This is going to be fun, so buckle up.
      1-Disgruntled truck driver carrying an industrial explosives delivery stops at a preschool and lights the trailer up, harming many innocent children.
      2-A boat tour operator has his boat stolen and the criminal packs the boat with exposives and drives it under the cover of darkness to a major port and sets it off.
      3-A suicidal maniac rents a car and rigs an explosive device and drives up to the airport terminal and sets it off.
      4-A meteor crashes down in the Gulf of California and creates a monsterous tsunami that takes out most coastal cities.
      5-Restaurant employee laces your next meal with poison.

      As you say in your piece, what price do we put on human lives? I would deduct from that logic that NO price is too expensive! Therefore, we need:
      1-to install security guards and checkpoints at all preschools and daycare centers.
      2-All marinas to hire guards to secure boats while unattended and persons accessing the marina need to undergo screening for explosives.
      3-All airports need to have a vehicle checkpoint a half mile from the entrance to ensure no harm will be done by letting a particular vehicle enter. Or, better yet, do not allow any vehicles close to the terminal. Make grandma walk that half mile, it’ll do her health well. It’s a win-win.
      4-An obscenely large wall needs to be built around the Baja Peninsula to prevent flooding and loss of life from a tsunami.
      5-You, personally, need to hire someone to screen your food prior to consumption to allow for the detection of harmful substances since by not having detection, you are potentially risking your life.

      Overboard? Scare tactics? Crazy? Kooky? Alarmist? Extreme? You tell me. If you think I’m crazy for proposing these solutions to such remote possibilities, then the feeling is mutual.

  • Space Cadet July 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Well, I suppose you are correct that those skills can be learned, but that is fairly advanced training. You don’t go from being a private pilot to that without special training. I am a private pilot and several of my friends are private pilots. None of us can do what that guy did. And in case the public is not aware, all flight schools, due to the 9/11 attacks, are required to report students who have oddly specific goals in flight training. For instance, if I walk into a fight school, and I would venture to say that there are very, very , very few that actually have airliners sitting around (commercial pilots learn how to start up airliners because they were just hired by airlines, in almost all cases) and ask the instructor to just show me how to start it and taxi it and how to maybe take off… well they are compelled to report that to the authorities. No flight school is going to teach zero-time newbies how to start an airliner and taxi and fly… it’s ridiculous, not after 9/11. Next, people are going to worry about how to prevent a cruise ship from being started up and crashed into docks. Or, maybe someone will commandeer a space ship and wreck it into a city… how about this? A lunatic steals an eighteen-wheeler plows into a renaissance fair. Then what? Just know that there are plenty of safety elements in place in most of this world we live in. It will never be perfect. We don’t live in a Utopia and never will. You can’t be protected from everything. In fact, living in Mexico, you can have your head chopped off. That’s gott’a be a little unnerving. What are you doing to make sure that doesn’t happen. Is the government doing anything to prevent that? Are they issuing really thick neck braces? These are rhetorical questions, and I am just having fun. There is no way to completely make this world safe. It is a knee-jerk reaction to go crazy over one incident.

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