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TIGHTEN SECURITY AT SMALL AIRPORTS



Published: Fri, January 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



TIGHTEN SECURITY AT SMALL AIRPORTS

Dallas Morning News: After a tragic incident in which a 15-year-old student pilot helped himself to a Cessna and flew it into a 42-story office building in downtown Tampa, Fla. -- in apparent support for Osama bin Laden -- Americans are right to be outraged at suggestions that little can be done to prevent it from happening again. That cannot be true.

A note left behind by Charles J. Bishop suggests that the high school freshman wanted to send a message. He succeeded -- though it was not what Mr. Bishop had in mind. Instead of being impressed by a teen-ager's commitment to a cause, Americans are left with new concerns about lax security at general aviation airports and inadequate scrutiny over who is allowed to fly private planes.

Volume: Part of the problem is volume. The nation has more than 200,000 small planes flying in and out of 18,000 airports. Policing those airports takes manpower, and those who run small airports complain that they don't have it. Add to that what has been, even since Sept. 11, aggressive lobbying by organizations representing the general aviation industry. Those groups have torpedoed new security regulations by claiming that they would impede private air travel.

Since Sept. 11, most new safety measures have been aimed at large airports. But the Tampa incident reminds us of the dangers in putting off any longer reforms that could prevent more misuse of lighter aircraft at smaller fields. That the incident involved a 15-year-old who had six hours of flight time toward a pilot's license at an age where, in most states, he would be too young to get a driver's license tells us that we have to do more to control who is allowed in cockpits.

Jane Garvey, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, should use the cautionary case of Charles Bishop to launch a new initiative to better regulate private aircraft and those who fly them. Specific measures might include prohibiting flight schools from giving instruction to anyone under 17, the age that someone must be to obtain a pilot's license, and requiring that would-be pilots be in good medical and mental health.

New law: More should be done to ensure that planes are locked up when not in use, and that no one is allowed near a plane without supervision. If we want a better homeland defense, we ought to improve small airport security and access. And if the FAA meets resistance from special interests, Congress should back up the agency with a new law that goes even further.

Small planes -- and those who pilot them -- have operated under the radar screen long enough.

INSPECTING THE ARMS SHIP

Toronto Globe and Mail: Whatever the truth about the large shipload of weapons seized by Israeli commandos last week, apparently en route to the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the timing could not have been more unfortunate. Special U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni was about to return to the region in a renewed bid to steer the moribund peace process back on track. He was not aided by Israel's swift, unequivocal announcement that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority had engineered the purchase and transport of the arsenal.

Perhaps that's exactly what happened. Mr. Arafat insists he and his senior colleagues had no prior knowledge of the vessel and its cargo -- 50 tons of long-range rockets, anti-tank missiles, mines and small arms, mostly of Iranian origin. But if he is lying, it would scarcely be for the first time.

Credibility: A widespread Palestinian view is that there is something deeply suspicious about the hugely publicized interception, and that the Israeli government may have orchestrated events to further undermine what credibility Mr. Arafat retains as a partner for peace. Particularly odd was the speed with which the ship's relaxed-looking Palestinian captain was trotted out by his Israeli captors to tell selected television crews that his orders came from a weapons agent with ties to the Palestinian Authority's upper echelons.

The captain is lying, says Mr. Arafat, who has called for an international committee to examine Israel's allegations. That's out of the question, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded Tuesday, saying such an inquiry would serve as a "smokescreen." Instead, Mr. Sharon's office says it will release documents proving Mr. Arafat was directly involved. If there are such documents, let's hope they appear soon.

As both sides endlessly, and loudly, accuse the other of acting in bad faith, the recriminations underscore the importance of world public opinion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jewish politicians from around the world are currently being feted by the Israeli government. Propaganda e-mails stream out from Israel's embassies abroad. The Palestinian public-relations drive is almost as vigorous.

Formidable task: The gloomiest view is that the talk of peace is all a facade, and that neither Mr. Arafat nor Mr. Sharon holds any real desire to secure a breakthrough. What is clear is that Mr. Zinni's already formidable task of trying to broker an accord just became harder still.




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