ON Kilter: Airport security deficit? The sum of the plane incidents at SGU

OPINION – St. George made national headlines recently when a man suspected of murdering a woman in Colorado successfully commandeered a commercial passenger jet secured at the terminal of the St. George airport.

I use the word “successfully” loosely here as his endeavors ended abruptly with a self-inflicted gunshot wound administered at some point in his short command of the aircraft.

Call out the National Guard?

I think not.

In true post 9/11 hysteria, the public and media alike have been on this like flies on molasses calling for the St. George Police Department, the City of St. George, and even SkyWest to own up to their alleged incompetence in allowing the likes of this to take place.

“What if he had gotten airborne and flew the plane into a building?” They cry.

I love “what ifs?” And I, in fact, have a few of my own.

What if the guy really murdered that woman and was on the run? What if the security at the small regional airport in St. George was up to snuff up to including a nightly patrol of the perimeter? What if just being able to access the plane and fire it up was not enough to get it airborne? What if in his almost successful escape attempt, he could not back the plane from the terminal without a ground crew and when he tried he clipped the building? People who think that it is easy to take off in an aircraft of this size simply do not know much about flight operations. It takes more than just a pilot to get those planes off the ground and, by that alone, it could be asserted here that since there was not a ground crew to assist the plane in operations, it was secure.

Being a pilot, what if he knew that after clipping that building there was not a chance of flight so he resigned himself to suicide in the cabin after leaving the engines fired up and the plane ambled around hitting things until it came to a stop while he was already dead?

Reasonable assertions aside, there are some correlations being made between this incident and the recent plane crash at the same airport.

My understanding is the pilot of the ill-fated flight last month was in fact licensed and had legal access to the aircraft; which begs the question, what exactly do these two incidents have in common?

The fact is they have nothing in common and calling for more airport security to prevent someone from stealing an aircraft again stands alone on this more incident, not both.

And on its merit alone, the incident with the stolen jet is an isolated one that can likely be prevented in the future by simply securing an aircraft itself a little more tightly.

Aren’t we already burdened enough with over zealous airport security?

Seriously, those who would purport the necessity of increased security, what would you suggest? More Transportation Safety Administration agents? More strip-searches? More armed personnel posted not only in the airport, on the planes, but now also around the fences?

The old adage of being careful about what you ask for comes to mind here.

This was a senseless and tragic event and what the actual intentions of the man were will simply never be fully known.

But lets temper our reaction with some semblance of reason here and ask if correlations between this event and terrorists really exist. Or are we in a bit of heightened post-9/11 paranoia and allowing it to dictate our reactions to this incident a little more fervently than perhaps we would in more normal circumstances.

I, for one, feel that I have had a lot of my liberties stripped from me in the name of protecting me since the attacks in New York. Ben Franklin said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither and while I despise people who use airplanes for weapons, I despise people who use these things as excuses to take more liberties from me more.

So should you. Think about it some.

See you out there.


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

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @dallashyland

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Space Cadet July 26, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Yeah, that about sums it up. Last week there were all kinds of cries for wrapping the airport in layers of more government officials and red-tape — because we all know there isn’t enough already. Don’t forget the knee-jerk reaction to get some heads on platters. Mr. Hyland is correct!

    St. George police did nothing wrong or incompetent in this event. The same whiney people (mostly advocates for more government regulation, because they are afraid of their own shadows and don’t want to take responsibility for their own well being) are the ones now screaming for getting the guns off the street because of the Aurora, CO. theater killing spree. Same thing, the police there aren’t to blame either. There is one person to blame completely, that is the homicidal maniac who committed the killings. Otherwise, we have a culture that has convinced many people to walk around like sheep, unarmed and trusting that the universe is good and no harm will come to them. It’s not the guns that caused the killings in Aurora, it is the animal who pulled the trigger. Just as it’s not the police in St. George, or airport security or the maker of the jet, or the maker of the carpet the pilot used to cover the barbed wire… it’s the nut job who committed the crime.

    Keep up the logical and good work, Mr. Hyland!

  • Murat July 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Since it’s such a large property, the perimeter and sensitive areas of the airport need to be under video surveillance with software actively monitoring for and updating trained, competent security personnel on any potential threats.

    • Dsull July 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      So I guess at least with your video surveillance we would have had a video of him crashing into the building. Makes sense.

      • Murat July 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

        No, ideally the human monitor would have spotted the man jumping over the barbed wire fence with the piece of carpet scrap, which would have allowed for plenty of time in apprehending him before he could access the jet. If he wasn’t being vigilant, the software would alert him and any/all other security personnel and the SGPD cop via a mobile device, providing them with real-time location and tracking data as well as a video feed.

        • Not a Mormon July 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm

          The airport is patrolled by a single st george police officer who splits his time on foot in and around the terminal and in a vehicle driving the perimeter fence. There is no one sitting in the airport watching cameras on monitors. There are no mobile devices. The officer, when he comes upon something suspicious, radios his findings to his dispatcher and if necessary another car from the city is sent down to the airport. My understanding is that this is how things are supposed to work because it’s just too big and there’s no money to treat it like a prison on lockdown with multiple fences, cameras, and multiple roving patrols, with a detachment of armed guards sitting in a barracks somewhere itching to deploy on a moment’s notice.

          • Murat July 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm

            I am a security expert and my analysis of the St. George airport is that its security system is inadequate and defective on multiple levels.

          • Dsull July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm

            @Murat: if you knew anything about airport security, you would realize that SGU has substantially more security than most regional airports in the United States. As a pilot that travels to many different airports in the 11 western states, most do not even have a guard on duty, all they have is a chain link fence around them.
            Everything you have said so far has proven you know nothing about airports across the nation, what security is actually feasible, and that there is actually a threat. Study up before you become an “Expert”.

  • John Hull July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Yup! I agree with Dallas’ reasoning. I am familiar with both airport operatons, and police operations. You will never be able to absolutely, concretely, without fail, guard against someone intent on doing somthing stupid. This particular incident is an aberration. It couldn’t be anticipated in advance, and even if the officer was standing right there at the airplane, he would likely make the assumption this person had business there just his actions.

    As to the 4 young men who crashed in May; as a former flight instructor, I’m guessing the pilot was impaied in his thinking, that he could take a fully loaded airplane and make an abrupt pullup to impress his buddies. Remember he was a pilot of much larger and more powerful airplanes. The video showed the airplane airborne and moving over the ground just above the pavement. That sounds to me like the pilot was accelerating to a speed to do the pullup. What he forgot is the load placed on the wings when a manuever like that is applied, resulting in a “departure stall”. No one’s fault but the pilot.

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