Thursday, September 21, 2006

Commitment Strategies vs Highjacking

I've just been doing a good deal of travel by air—one reason I haven't posted recently—and so have been thinking a bit about security issues.

On the face of it, almost all of the precautions to keep passsengers from highjacking an airplane are unnecessary—all it takes is a reasonably sturdy locked door between pilots and passengers. One possible response is that highjackers might persuade pilots to open such a door by threatening to kill off crew and passengers one by one until they do. In the post 9/11 world I'm not sure that would work—but suppose it would.

There is a simple solution: Provide the pilots with a second lock that can only be unlocked by someone on the ground. At the first sign of a highjacking they lock it and are now immune to threats. It would be prudent to make sure that potential highjackers know about the second lock, and perhaps to have a lighted sign or prerecorded announcement to signal that it has been activated.

28 Comments:

At 3:55 PM, September 21, 2006, Anonymous Adam Selene said...

Or you could remove the pilots altogether. If the combination of onboard computer AI and ground control can be good enough for the military (Lockheed Says F-35 Could Fly Pilotless), it ought to be good enough for civilian aircraft.

 
At 7:04 PM, September 21, 2006, Blogger Dean said...

In the post-9/11 world, I think the passengers would take back the airplane, without waiting to see what the hijackers had in mind.

 
At 11:59 PM, September 21, 2006, Blogger Gil said...

David's plan might make it harder for the passengers to take back the plane if the hijackers should happen to get in before the second lock is activated.

Damn those unintended consequences!

 
At 7:35 AM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or, we could go back to having armed pilots (there were hijacking attempts in the 1960s that were foiled by pilots with .45s)... the pilots were officially disarmed by the Bush DOT right before 9-11. For some reason this fact is rarely discussed; I suspect that it doesn't fit people's "mental pigeonholes". People who like to think of themselves as "Republicans" don't like to think of Republicans as gun confiscators who raise spending.

 
At 9:38 AM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Bryan Eastin said...

David, I agree with you completely. I submitted an Op-Ed to the NYTs with the same point. If you're worried about the pilots opening the door, you could just seal it so that neither pilots nor crew could open it. Maybe planes shouldn't even be built with a connecting door between cabin and cockpit.

Adam, I see two likely sticking points for AI planes. The first is the cost and complexity of implementing them, and the second is that we'd then have to worry about whether they're hackable.

 
At 10:54 AM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Gary said...

What happens when the pilots need to use the lavatory during flight? or get served their meals?

Even if you say that these things aren't as important, they should use a cup or pack energy bars and bottled water in the small cockpits, the pilots unions will (successfully) oppose such a change...

 
At 11:07 AM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous A.B. said...

Even though, the terrorist could threaten the pilot to kill everyone if it doesn't land somewhere. Granted it's not as bad as crashing it somewhere but still.
Of course speculating about solutions is far from being as effective as letting airlines decide their own security rule and let the competition devise the most ingenious systems.

 
At 11:07 AM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous A.B. said...

Even though, the terrorist could threaten the pilot to kill everyone if it doesn't land somewhere. Granted it's not as bad as crashing it somewhere but still.
Of course speculating about solutions is far from being as effective as letting airlines decide their own security rule and let the competition devise the most ingenious systems.

 
At 3:46 PM, September 22, 2006, Blogger Jonathan said...

My frivolous mind throws up the idea of a trapdoor between the first and second doors.

Hijackers fall out... oops no parachutes...

Probably not a serious proposal but it's past my bedtime.

 
At 6:15 PM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous A.B. said...

Just another thought, it is worthy to be noted that the terrorist threat exists only because of the power of the government. Basically the idea is to threaten people and use fear so that they'll turn to their government and make them do something. If you remove the government you remove the very incentive for terrorism.

 
At 8:42 PM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Bryan Eastin said...

Gary, if you're building a new plane you can give the pilots their own lavatories. On an old plane you'll have to rig something up.

We're talking about an industry that searches customers bodily and confiscates small personal possessions. If it was widely acknowledged that sealing the cockpit was sufficient to avoid hijackers, well, pilots would just have to bring their lunch.

 
At 12:16 PM, September 23, 2006, Anonymous Alex said...

This proposal might backfire if the hijacker were a pilot.

 
At 2:24 PM, September 23, 2006, Blogger Jonathan said...

a.b.: "Basically the idea is to threaten people and use fear so that they'll turn to their government and make them do something. If you remove the government you remove the very incentive for terrorism."

I like the idea, but unfortunately I don't think it's true. If you terrify people, they will seek a way to respond to it. In the absence of government, either some other organization will respond to it, or the people might reintroduce government if they thought that might help.

Terrorism could be aimed at companies too; and companies are more likely than governments to be intimidated by it.

It is admittedly true that governments tend to provoke terrorism by sending armies into foreign countries. A country with no government is unlikely to arouse this kind of hostility; however, its very existence might well arouse hostility from foreign governments instead.

 
At 3:15 PM, September 23, 2006, Anonymous a.b. said...

To jonathan,
The way people would react to terrorism would be with anger and violence against the terrorist, this is not what the terrorist want. You say the people may want to form a government to prevent terrorism... but why would there be terrorism in the first place? The only logical goal of terrorism would have to be the creating of a government. But it's much easier to overthrow a government with a coup d'etat than to create one in the first place...
Now if companies were subject to terrorism, let's say because the terrorist don't like the company. What would the terrorist do?
- target civilian... I doubt the civilians would ask the company to stop its activity, and if they would they could hardly enforce it.
- target the company... well then the company has to defend itself, it's targetted, it's not really terrorism... Well you may say the employees could be targetted, and would be scared to work in that company. That's a possibility.

 
At 4:03 PM, September 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote:

Of course speculating about solutions is far from being as effective as letting airlines decide their own security rule and let the competition devise the most ingenious systems.

------------------------------------

That only works if airlines are held liable for any damage caused if their planes hit stuff.

In theory, it is worth spending money on security, if it is less than the decrease in the chances of doing damage times the cost of the damage.

If all airlines have to worry about is the cost of the lost plane, then their security spending will be less than economically efficient as the total damage that they are liable for is less than the total damage.

I guess you could argue that since all buildings in a city will be put at risk, they will fund the additional security costs, however, that hits free rider issues.

 
At 6:46 PM, September 24, 2006, Anonymous a.b. said...

You are disregarding

a) the cost of risk
b) that the passengers themselves want to be safe.

So actually much more would be spent than the actual expected cost of potential damages.

 
At 1:04 AM, September 25, 2006, Anonymous Marko said...

Here's another proposal... When the pilot presses the button, sleeping gas starts filling the plane (except the cockpit, obviously). Everyone falls asleep and, when they get to their destination, they are waken up, and terrorists are taken to prison. If it is really necessary, someone from the ground also has to press the button. I think it would be difficult for terrorists to get the gas masks on board.

 
At 12:19 PM, September 25, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This does not solve the problem of suicidal terrorists who are eager to copulate with 72 virgins in paradise.

 
At 12:28 PM, September 25, 2006, Anonymous a.b. said...

Easy one,
Bribe them with a higher bid, get 72 virgin stewardess on every flight...
Now that's what I call war on terrorism!

 
At 5:33 PM, September 25, 2006, Blogger Philanthropic Patriot said...

The easiest way to prevent all hijackings in the future is to require that every able bodied person boardng a plane carry a taser and to hand them out to people who don't have their own.

No stray bullets to cause decompression and no way a hijacker would know which way to turn.

 
At 11:38 AM, September 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easy libertarian solution: Fly the newest airline: "NUDE DHIMMIS"!

 
At 7:43 AM, September 30, 2006, Blogger Biomed Tim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:45 AM, September 30, 2006, Blogger Biomed Tim said...

A second lock wouldn't stop an irrational terrorist, nor would a third, or fourth lock. A determined terrorist would still threaten to kill off the crew members and passengers until the door is opened. All the "second lock" does is shift the decision-making responsibility onto the ground as opposed to the pilots.

 
At 3:34 PM, September 30, 2006, Anonymous albatross said...

There are probably three interesting levels of bad outcome the airport security is suppsoed to stop:

a. Turning a plane into a low-tech cruise missile.

b. Killing everyone on the plane.

c. Killing anyone on the plane.

An impossible-to-open cockpit door is probably enough to prevent (a). If you add the ability to warn ground control and the existence of fighters, or (more cheaply) a remote-control bomb on the plane, you get close to certain that (a) won't happen anymore.

I think (b) is hard against a really capable opponent. To the extent that this is a major concern, though, we either need good screening, or relatively small planes (so that you kill 40 people with your improvised bomb, not 400).

Nothing can prevent (c), though you'd clearly rather not have someone go on a shooting spree on a plane.

The thing is, (a) is unique to airplanes. The other two are just attacks that could happen anywhere. A plane may be more vulnerable, but it's not like you can prevent suicide bombers from killing people by just keeping them off airplanes.

 
At 2:46 PM, October 02, 2006, Blogger markm said...

albatross: True. There was a time when the easiest way to (threaten to) kill a lot of people might have been to smuggle aboard a weapon sufficient to bring down an airplane. Now, that's very difficult, but we've often got hundreds of people bunched up at security checkpoints. I don't know if it's lack of imagination that keeps suicide bombers from hitting those lines or what.

 
At 6:45 PM, October 02, 2006, Blogger Libertarian at 08824 said...

(1) It would seem that one could weld the cockpit door shut. Pilots could use a camping toilet if needed. Seems an easy fix to me.

(2) Armed pilots used to be an acceptable solution. Why not now?

(3) Leave it to the airlines to figure out. Get the government out of all the things that it should NOT be into. Shut the TSA, FAA, and any lots of others.



Ferdinand John Reinke
Kendall Park, NJ 08824
Webform that creates an urgent email => http://public.2idi.com/=reinkefj
Web page => http://www.reinke.cc/
My blog => http://reinkefj.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn url => http://www.linkedin.com/in/reinkefj

 
At 4:45 PM, October 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am afraid that does not work as well. if they would threaten the pilot to open the door, why would not they do the same to that someone on the ground who is in charge of the door?

 
At 6:52 AM, January 21, 2009, Blogger wow power leveling said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home