Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wake-up Call: San Jose Airport's porous perimeter

 The teenager who climbed a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport and expressed himself to Hawaii in a 767's wheelwell was the subject of some hilarity on talk radio, but the fact that he got over the perimeter fence and remained unseen for more than five hours was nothing but bad news. Airports everywhere should pay attention.
I'd have thought San Jose is above-average in intruder awareness. In 1975, following other assaults nearby, an armed man forced his way into the San Jose airport grounds with several hostages in tow and tried to hijack a 727 -- a desperate, murderous plan that ended when a police sharpshooter killed him with a single round.
Here's one reason I worry about future intruders hopping the perimeter fence (photo, Google Maps):
That's a FedEx cargo airliner in the photo, and it's parked at San Jose International not far from the passenger terminal. Anyone who gets onto the grounds undetected can just as easily climb aboard a cargo jet, and not just the wheel-well, either.
Cargo jets remain a major security concern for all of us, and not just because of their mostly-unscrutinized cargo. Their flight crews are very small, even on huge jets - and armed attackers wouldn't have to worry about the passengers organizing to strike back, as happened on Flight 93. As of 2010, long after 9/11, most cargo jets still didn't have hardened cockpit doors.
Twenty years ago this month, armed with a hammer, a single assailant (disgruntled FedEx employee Auburn Calloway, aboard as deadheading crewmember) came very close to commandeering and crashing FedEx Flight 705 out of Memphis. That was a DC-10 jumbo which, coincidentally, was scheduled to land at San Jose airport.
Both FedEx and UPS planes land at San Jose, and if hijacked, they're plenty big enough to destroy a skyscraper.

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