US may soon announce security deal with pilots

Monday, 22 November 2010 01:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The Obama administration could soon announce new airport security screening measures for airline pilots, who have complained about full-body scans and invasive pat downs, a top U.S. official said on Friday.

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole acknowledged in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that scans and pat downs intended to find explosives and other weapons would offer little protection against any pilot determined to bring down an aircraft.

“We’ve had a number of very good discussions with pilots and hope to be announcing something very soon in terms of a good way forward for the pilots for that very reason, using a risk-based intelligence driven process,” he said.

Pilots’ unions, which have raised health concerns about scans and objected to rigorous pat downs, say their members already have gone through security background checks, making further screening duplicative. U.S. officials contend that radiation from the scans pose no health risk.

Pistole gave no indication that screening rules for passengers are about to change, despite calls for alternative measures including Israeli-style one-on-one interviews with travellers.

“That’s a good topic of public debate. Obviously we use layers of security and hopefully we’re informed by the intelligence,” he told ABC.

But the television network also reported on Friday that TSA is testing new X-ray technology that would show a “stick figure” instead of a passenger’s full-body image.

As the U.S. airline industry enters one of the year’s busiest seasons, administration officials face an uproar over invasive new screening techniques intended to foil attacks such as the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot in which a Nigerian man is charged with trying to detonate explosives in his underwear aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

Airport security measures prompt new website

Reuters Life!: Too shy for full-body scanners? Embarrassed by vigorous pat-downs? A new website invites travellers to share their views about tightened airport security measures.

The U.S. Travel Association set up the website,, after it received more than 1,000 unsolicited comments from travellers about the increased security following recently foiled bomb plots involving U.S. bound parcels.

“It was clear to us that there was some national concern about this issue. We are hoping that this website can help people express those views so we can all work together,” said Geoff Freeman, the executive vice president of the trade group.

He added that he hopes feedback from the website can provide a platform through which travelers can share their opinions with policy makers in Washington.

Not all the comments on the site are critical. Freeman said many travellers are wondering about the long-term wisdom of it all.

“Feedback is critical. Currently, the system is not built with the travellers’ vision in mind,” he explained. “As of now, Congress has established an unachievable goal for TSA by telling them to eliminate all risk. That’s not possible,” he said, referring to the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA ramped up security after two air packages containing bombs, which were both sent from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were intercepted in Britain and Dubai.

“It’s important that the system becomes one in which we are using ever smarter techniques with the resources we have,” Freeman said. “It’s a healthy question to ask. This isn’t a black and white question. It’s a gray area that needs to be addressed.”

US airlines seen earning $ 4 b in 2010

Reuters: U.S. airlines are projected to post $4 billion in profits for 2010, the chairman of newly formed United Continental Holdings Inc said. Speaking to an industry group in Washington, Glenn Tilton also said that United Continental needs a “tremendous amount of deleveraging” and it may be time to make balance sheets more resilient industrywide.

“I think with these interest rates, everybody is focused on opportunities to refinance debt,” Tilton said. “It’s a timely thing.”

Still, he said airlines “have come a long way” since the early and middle part of the last decade when United and other major carriers fell into bankruptcy. He said the industry is trying to make itself more appealing to Wall Street as a long-term investment.

United/Continental was formed this year from a $3.17 billion merger of UAL Corp and Continental Airlines with the goal of delivering $1 billion to $1.2 billion in annual cost and revenue benefits by 2013. The combined company has about $9 billion in cash, which exceeds its market capitalization by nearly $400 million.

The airline industry has been hit in recent years by overcapacity and an economic recession that drained travel demand. But carriers are beginning to recover, posting strong profits in the third quarter. U.S. carriers lost $2.5 billion last year.

Tilton said debt reduction, as well as U.S. progress on global trade initiatives, modernizing aviation infrastructure and simplifying industry taxes and regulation are priorities for helping industry achieve “our ambition of sustained profitability.”

Small-scale attacks on U.S. to continue, group says

DUBAI  (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing threatened more small-scale attacks against the United States to inflict economic damage, particularly to the aviation industry.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it had cost just $4,200 to mail two parcel bombs from Yemen to the United States last month. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and Dubai, sparking a worldwide security alert.

“It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks,” AQAP said in its online Inspire magazine, released on militant websites.

“We are laying out for our enemies our plan in advance because as we stated earlier our objective is not maximum kill but to cause (damage) in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the U.S. and Europe.”

The United States had already stepped up airline passenger security after a Nigerian man tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit last December. AQAP had claimed responsibility.