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Include pilots in airport security upgrade

Pilots should have access to the passenger manifest, including the watch list, of the craft they operate.

A recent close call on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit begs the obvious question: If the crew of that aircraft had seen the watch list, might the additional eyeballs on the profile of the would-be bomber have helped to identify the potential terrorist before his boarding? It’s time to expand the list of dot-connectors to include those assuredly most desirous of seeing the big, ugly picture before it coalesces into a fireball.

If a captain at sea became aware that a passenger had the intent to blow up his ship, the commander would have discretion to throttle the fellow, confine him, make him walk the plank, or worse. Enforcers of maritime law would not only endorse the captain’s decision, but would acclaim his actions regardless what they may be, short of torture or other proscribed treatments. 

Airline pilots are in the same position, and they need the same discretion. At 40,000 feet over an ocean, or anyplace in the national airspace system, a captain needs all the information he or she can gather to reach safe harbor. Aviators hold what is called pilot in command authority, and they are covered by various rules and regulations.

On overseas flights, pilots adhere to so-called ICAO standards. The International Civil Aviation Organization, like the Federal Aviation Administration, governs air travel outside the U.S. Certain airline regulations add to pilots’ regulatory burden, and, depending on the company and the specific flight, they may or may not have dispatch authority.

Still, pilots should be included in the dissemination and oversight of manifest lists, especially as they pertain to potentially dangerous passengers. Pilots are routinely advised of the presence of hazardous on-board cargo, for instance. Is a passenger wearing a bomb in his tighty whities any different?

For those who fear the obvious, that pilots will mishandle the information, overreact in their judgements to carry or not carry certain individuals, or in general abuse the authority possession of such information grants, keep this in mind: Pilots undergo years of training to get the seat they occupy. They’re not about to jeopardize their position arbitrarily.

They’re entrusted with lives every day, so judgement is one of their hallmarks.

Pilots know the kerfuffle that ensues when a paying passenger is turned away. They would not reject a fare lightly. With recent shortcomings in our somewhat porous passenger screening system, does it not make sense to include cockpit crews in weaving a tighter net?

Pilots should be added to the information loop for another reason. The company that may reprimand them for refusing to fly a passenger is the same company that will be sued into insolvency by survivors if anything untoward happens to their loved ones. Even if alert passengers react in time to defuse yet another deadly threat, as happened in Detroit, passengers are liable to sue anyway. Such are our litigious times. The Detroit situation is not over; litigation will likely still come of that, particularly from injured passengers.

Pilots should be given names of any suspect passenger on their aircraft. A captain on the high seas would expect no less. The more interested, professional, invested parties in the loop, the better.

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