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Former FAA official: Cost of safety is long delays

Michael Goldfarb
Michael Goldfarb

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Flights disrupted in the last week amid security concerns

Friday, January 2

•British Airways Flt. 223, London-Washington, Canceled

Thursday, January 1

•British Airways Flt. 222, Washington-London, Canceled

•British Airways Flt. 223, London-Washington, Canceled

• BritishAirways Flt. 216, Washington-London, Delayed, passengers rescreened
•Aeromexico Flt. 490, Mexico City-Los Angeles - Canceled

Wednesday, December 31

•Aeromexico Flt. 490, Mexico City-Los Angeles, Canceled

 • British Airways Flt. 223, London-Washington, detained in D.C., passengers rescreened

Does tighter security on trans-Atlantic flights make you nervous about flying?
CNN Access
Michael Goldfarb
Air Transportation

(CNN) -- With the nation on "high alert" status, law enforcement officials are taking an unusual number of measures to prevent terrorist attacks, including detaining planes upon arrival in the United States and denying landing rights for flights operated by airlines in other countries. British Airways, Aeromexico and Air France flights have been canceled this week.

CNN anchor Candy Crowley discussed the security precautions with Michael Goldfarb, former chief of staff for the Federal Aviation Administration.

CROWLEY: How long do you keep this up? First of all, the security has to be very disruptive. And, also, it's going to take a toll fairly soon on air travel.

GOLDFARB: Well, I think it already is.

The irony is, in aviation, the things you expect tend to be the safest. So, if you're boarding a plane in Heathrow this afternoon coming to the United States, with all this extra protection, the safest time is probably right now.

How do you maintain a Code Orange alert with this almost counterterrorist operation more than aviation security through January, February and March?

You have a fragile airline industry. And you have people that are very jittery. We're not prepared to witness the kinds of things we saw at Dulles Airport two nights ago on New Year's Eve, where a plane was held for three hours to be checked on its landing at a destination.

CROWLEY: So what is the answer?

GOLDFARB: What we don't know and probably ought not to know publicly, the exact nature of the specific threat.

There's been tons of speculation, which is normally wrong, about what's going on.

It may be that the aviation security system, in fact, the computer lists and the security checks are working fairly well to be able to handle, I believe, a Code Yellow, perhaps, state of alert. But Code Orange, if that's going to mean, in this country, lines like you find at customs sometimes when you come into a country, I think people have to realize that the cost of safety is going to be long delays.

CROWLEY: What happens between the time a plane takes off at Heathrow and enters U.S. airspace that would require us scrambling an F-16?

GOLDFARB: Well, it's all based on information.

First of all, there's some good news, that authorities are sharing prior to takeoff the lists of passenger manifests. So we're having that information before planes take off, which is why we're seeing the groundings.

But if they take off and something happens in flight, there's constant communication between the cockpit, airline operations, air traffic control authorities in the United Kingdom and then Gander and then into the United States.

So that communication, they could call NORAD or they could call the Air Force immediately. And those planes are then set to scramble that flight.

You never know what you prevent. So that's part of the irony. You never know what you prevent. It is scary.

And I don't think we are going to take away the post-9/11 jitters that people have when they fly into the nation's capital or New York. I think that's just naturally a part of it.

But we have to be careful that we don't let the single focus on counterterrorism cloud the concern on aviation security and safety, because, if you're flying in a plane, you don't care if it's security or safety.

You want to get to your destination. And we need to keep a broad focus on flying safely here and abroad.

CROWLEY: What effect do you think all of this has on the bottom line?

GOLDFARB: Good and bad news.

The bad news is that a fragile airline industry can ill afford to maintain this level of security and this level of disruption.

The good news is, it's clearly a government-to-government responsibility. It is not an industry responsibility.

We'll have to see if the president's budget follows through in 2004 in February with the kinds of concerns that have caused a Code Orange alert.

And that will be the real proof about whether or not they're going to put their money behind aviation security on an ongoing basis and not on the airlines themselves.

CROWLEY: And bottom line, the airlines themselves are going to be more profitable if people are assured that they're safe.

GOLDFARB: The most expensive mistake you can make is to be cheap on safety or security, so, absolutely.

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