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04 August 2020 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 09:54 GMT+2

September 12, 2001

THE FUTURE OF AIR TRAVEL: Tougher rules coming
Serious changes: Air travel to become more restrictive to deter terrorist attacks.

Dave Hirschman and Nancy Fonti - Staff
Heightened security at U.S. airports could mean fewer flights, longer waits and higher prices, industry experts said in the wake of the terrorist hijackings that turned four airliners into missiles.

"Air travel is no longer going to be for the masses," aviation consultant Mike Boyd said. "It's going to become far more restricted. No airplane is going to be allowed to leave the gate without being swept from nose to tail --- and no one who comes near a commercial airliner is going to be allowed to carry so much as a pocket knife."

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said security will tighten but offered few specifics other than more thorough searches and an elimination of curbside baggage check-in. Some predict more sweeping reforms with baggage handling, passenger screening and cockpit security.

"There is going to have to be a balance struck between security of air travel and the public's demand to travel," said Stuart Klaskin, a consultant with Klaskin Kushner & Co. "Events like this become something of a wake-up call and pave the way for serious changes in security."

Tuesday's disaster turned a routine morning for airlines into a nightmare. One minute, hundreds of planes were in the air, the next, the entire U.S. airline fleet was ordered to the ground. Managers and passengers alike were left to deal with a shutdown of unprecedented scope and unknown duration --- along with the horror of four crashes in one morning.

Like the targets of the attacks, the airlines involved are symbols of America's global prowess. American Airlines and United Airlines are the Nos. 1 and 2 carriers by revenue. The No. 3 U.S. carrier, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, issued a statement late Tuesday morning saying all its planes were accounted for. Chief executive Leo Mullin led an executive team at an emergency center in Atlanta. The team will determine how to effect any new security measures, and manage the airline's restart when flights resume.

"It's going to be difficult to crystal ball until the (government) provides some guidelines on any changes that would occur," Delta spokesman Todd Clay said. "I think it would be unfair to make any judgments as to how this will change air travel."

Mullin and Joe Leonard, his counterpart at AirTran Airways, spoke by phone to discuss security at Hartsfield International Airport, where both operate hubs, an AirTran spokesman said.

Security improvements could boost travel and shipping costs, said Ned Laird of Air Cargo Management Group in Seattle.

"The cost of air travel and shipping are bound to go up to pay for that added security," he said, "and the burden is going to fall on passengers and shippers."

U.S. air travelers could see armed guards with automatic weapons in airports along with bomb-sniffing dogs and X-ray machines for luggage, said Theodore Scherck of the Colography Group, an Atlanta transportation consultancy. "Security is going to get a lot tighter for everyone," he said. "The trick is pulling it off without crippling the economy."

Pilots say the industry should consider armored cockpit door systems or a double-door system with one door always locked. Cockpit doors now are thin to allow for easy emergency exit and cut weight.

Besides altering the way airlines operate, the disaster could worsen an industry financial slump. Most carriers have lost money in 2001 amid slackening demand for travel.

"American and United will probably suffer the worst, but every airline is going to be impacted," said John Wensveen, a management professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. "Millions and millions of dollars will be lost."

Major airports could see flights cut 30 percent because of more elaborate procedures, consultant Boyd said, with serious implications for airlines. Discount carriers such as AirTran and Southwest, for instance, rely on "quick turnarounds" to keep planes airborne as much as possible.

"No airline will be able to do 15-minute turns anymore," Boyd said. "Things have permanently changed."

Air cargo lines such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express are also likely to face tighter security, which could slow urgent package shipments. Both have suspended service to New York and Washington and waived time guarantees elsewhere.

In addition to the costs of a shutdown and added security, airlines face an uncertain reaction by travelers. That could affect hotels, cruise lines and big destinations such as Disney World, which closed Tuesday but was to reopen today.

Dawn Salomone, manager of AAA Travel in Marietta, said her office was quiet Tuesday afternoon, with few calls for either cancellations or new bookings.

"I think people want to pretty much stick close to home right now," she said. "People are watching TV. They are shocked. It's very hard to tell what's going to happen."

--- Paula Crouch Thrasher contributed to this article.
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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