Air safety

Air safety
: All kinds of odd doings in the air these days. The Times reports that some of the cancellations came because British pilots refused to fly with air marshals and we refused to let them into U.S. air space without the marshals. But that doesn’t explain why BA canceled a flight from London to Saudi Arabia.

And officials have acknowledged that even now, they are uncertain whether they have succeeded in foiling a terrorist plot.

“I don’t think we know yet, and we may never know,” a senior administration official said.

Well, of course not. Was there ever a moment when safe-not-sorry better rules the day?

More from the Times:

In another indication of the turmoil resulting from the increased security measures, an American official said that the cancellation of the British Airways flights was not in response to United States safety concerns, but rather was prompted by the refusal of British pilots to fly with armed marshals on board. The United States put other nations on notice earlier this week that it would not allow certain suspicious flights into its airspace without armed marshals on board.

In addition to the flight cancellations, foreign airliners have been escorted into American airspace by F-16 military fighters, and a Mexican flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles was turned around in mid-air….

And regarding the pre-Christmas cancelations of French flights:

President Bush had one threshold question for Tom Ridge, his secretary for homeland security, as they met at the White House situation room on Dec. 22. “Would you let your son or daughter fly on that plane?” he asked Mr. Ridge, according to a senior administration official privy to the conversation.

“Absolutely not,” the secretary responded. “Well,” Mr. Bush said, “neither would I.”

The two men and Mr. Bush’s other advisers then agreed that if the threat remained, the French should be urged to cancel the Paris-to-Los Angeles flights over the Christmas holiday. Two days later, the French did just that.

But with that aggressive approach have come questions about the quality of the intelligence information. In the case of the Air France cancellations, for instance, the discovery of a name on the passenger manifest similar to that of a Tunisian pilot with possible extremist links ratcheted up concern. But officials said it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity; the name of the passenger was that of a child, a senior official said in an interview. Other apparent “hits” from American terror watch lists turned out to be an elderly Chinese woman who owned a restaurant and a Welsh insurance agent, an F.B.I. official said.

Oh, I’m awaiting smart-assed remarks on that. But while officials are being questioned about whether they knew enough to stop 9/11, how could they not be overcautious now? If this is damaging to travel, how damaging would another successful attack be? Welcome to World War III. We’re all in the foxholes.

: The Washington Post reports that not all the names on the French list were mistakes:

One passenger who did not show up for the flight has fled and cannot be found, a U.S. intelligence official said. He was described as a male of Middle Eastern descent who is a pilot, according to another U.S. intelligence official.

: Since everything related to this intelligence is, in fact, a matter if national — hell, international — security, no news is being released and thus reporters just speculate at the news or find those willing to do so. From the Guardian:

One theory in aviation circles was that the threat to flight BA223 might relate to UN general assembly resolution 223 passed in 1997, which attacked the Israeli treatment of Palestinians on the occupied territories. The resolution, which is among several UN declarations regularly cited by Arab states, condemned Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the Gaza strip as “illegal” and “a major obstacle to peace”.

: The Telegraph finds this speculation:

Paul Beaver, a defence analyst, said he believed that reports gathered by American agencies were “very, very precise”. That was why BA223 was being cancelled while the airline’s two other daily Heathrow-Washington services continued to operate.

“We have intelligence, I am told, that there was a plan to take the aircraft and destroy it over Washington or fly it into something. Washington is the target. There is a real and definite threat.”

And this:

One reason Flight BA223 might be viewed as a particular target is that it is the only British Airways Washington service operated with a four-engine Boeing 747 jumbo. The two others are flown by twin-engine Boeing 777s, which carry about a third less fuel.

: In a case of misguided packaging, the holiday weekend hack on duty at Guardian Online links to stories about the cancellation of BA flights because of terrorism fears, the impact of these fears on airports around the world, a special terrorism package… and the cheery Guardian travel section.