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How Much Longer?

Hijackings are not an inevitable risk of air travel. Hijackings are preventable. The simplest and surest way to keep them from happening is by requiring and using effective on-the-ground security procedures to detect would-be hijackers before they have a chance to act. These procedures are in force at scores of major airports around the world. They plainly were not in force last Friday at Athens airport. Because of that inexplicable lapse, two armed terrorists were able to board and subsequently seize TWA Flight 847, setting in motion an international odyssey of horror and brutality.

There is simply no excuse for the security failure in Athens, or for any similar failure at any other major airport. Detection devices, had they been used, should easily have found the weapons that two men who identify themselves as Lebanese Shia Muslims claim they carried aboard the plane. The dereliction in Athens has resulted in cold-blooded murder. It has imperiled many lives and imposed a terrible ordeal on innocent air travelers. By encouraging the notion that terrorism can be rewarded, it has eroded still further the standards of decency by which the civilized world tries to conduct its affairs.

The major countries of the world have a remedy available if they are serious about wanting to prevent air terrorism. They can agree that they will order their airlines to boycott any airport where security measures against terrorism are not strictly carried out. For this approach to work will require an unusual, even an unprecedented, degree of cooperation. That cooperation is by no means assured. There is big money involved in air transportation, and some countries and some airlines would probably prefer to risk planes, crews and passengers rather than jeopardize revenue. But notice has again been served: Air terrorism exists because there are places where it is made easy. How much longer will the world tolerate this dismal fact?


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