Richard Russell, an airplane mechanic at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) stole an airplane on Friday evening. He flew the Q-400 Turboprop around for a little over an hour, performing aerial maneuvers, until finally crashing the vehicle and ending his life.
The extravagantly expensive joyride has rattled the American airline industry. (CNN)
A review of the event was conducted by Seattle authorities. On Monday, they announced their findings.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said Monday at a news conference that the Port — which operates the airport — had not yet identified any lapses in security protocols after Russell, a Horizon Air employee, stole the plane.
“All security protocols were handled appropriately here at the airport,” she said, later describing the heist as a one-in-a-million experience and an “aberration.”Seattle Times
The fact that no security protocols were breached leads to one unavoidable conclusion: that there is a significant hole in airport security.
Aircraft are designed to be flown by any qualified personnel. This feature provides multiple benefits. First, it allows for different flight crews to operate off of the same airplane, reducing the number of workers an airline needs. Second, it facilitates the guiding of a plane to safety should something befall pilot and, if present, co-pilot during the flight. Third, it provides fewer interlocks which could fail during operation.
There are restrictions to passengers which are enforced by the TSA. Ultimately, however, airport workers need to have the ability to move freely about those portions of the airport required for their job.
The concern is that, now that this joyride has happened, other people may attempt to follow suit, either with or without darker motives.
Costs then battle security. Requiring a security officer to be present while an airplane is getting repaired, maintained or cleaned would be cost-prohibitive, considering the quantity of aircraft involved. Requiring personnel to work in pairs would generate its own cost issues.
As an emergency maneuver, Sea-Tac has added security personnel to the cargo areas of the terminals. (Seattle Times)
Maria Cantwell has called for a Senate hearing on aviation security.
More than 11,000 employees had the access required to perform Friday’s theft, and that was only at Sea-Tac airport. There are thousands more through the country, and as the recent airport drug ring bust where offers were made to smuggle weapons and explosives demonstrated, not all of them are honorable people. (Fort Worth Star Telegram)