A study of measures employed to combat aerial hijacking



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Purpose: With the aeronautical age came a problem unprecedented in the history of man, the piracy of aircraft. The piracy of ships on the high seas was primarily for monetary gain, and was accomplished by ship against ship. The piracy of an aircraft was most often accomplished by a single individual who had not money, but freedom for his goal. Later incidents were perpetrated for political motives, to focus attention on a particular cause; and some, as in piracy of old, were done for money. All of them had a single common element. An individual or small group, using modern weapons, could place an aircraft’s occupants in mortal jeopardy with surprising ease, while assuming little risk of failure. Numerous agencies, governmental bodies, and private companies became involved in attempts to stop air piracy, and several programs and methods were directed at that goal. These efforts often involved conflicts of interest and legitimate differences of opinion on what should be done. It is the purpose of this paper to document the methods taken to combat air piracy, as well as the conflict that arose concerning those efforts. Methods: Aerial piracy received a large amount of publicity and generated numerous studies. Published material on the subject is voluminous. The methods used to gain material for this report were, first, a selected review of the literature, and second, materials the author had available by the virtue of his employment in the anti-hijacking program. These sources, coupled with experience gained while employed in the air security field, furnished the basis for this report. Findings: The anti-hijacking program involved a number of agencies, organizations, and governmental bodies with overlapping jurisdictions and areas of concern. Early in the program a system – the profile – was developed which, had it been used vigorously, might have markedly decreased the number of incidents of aerial piracy. Such was not the case, and hijackings became more frequent. Worse, they changed in nature from the persons seeking asylum in other countries to political radicals attempting to focus attention on their causes. Later, hijackings were carried out with the purpose of extorting money. As aerial piracy became more frequent, the federal government became increasingly involved. Initially, governmental effort was directed at attempts to regulate the airline industry and direct anti-hijack efforts through rules and legislation. Later, the government became directly involved with programs such as sky marshals and pre-departure inspections. There was considerable conflict between the various governmental agencies involved in anti-hijacking programs. There was even more between the government and the airline industry. In the end, the federal government created legislation forcing mandatory passenger screening by the airline industry, over the industry’s objections. As of this date, it appears that mandatory passenger screening is working. Whether it will continue to work, and how long it will remain in effect, remains to be seen.



Hijacking of aircraft, Piracy, goal was freedom, seeking asylum