The current strategy to prevent people intent on destroying aircraft is based upon the premis that by banning descrete items you can stop the event from happening. This, however, suffers from three problems: Firstly, the “enemy” is smart and adaptive. Secondly, it suffers from a law of diminishing returns. Thirdly, it ultimately makes the mode of transport unusable.
I’m going to concentrate on the first of those failings here.
In the current alert it has been determined by the powers that be that the danger can be limited by preventing any electronic item inside the cabin and any item which may contain an explosive substance. Hence, the small number of items which can be taken as hand baggage. Everything else has to be placed in the hold of the aircraft. This a problem for the airlines (extra space needed in the baggage holds), the passengers (valuable items have to be placed in checked-in luggage which is then both not covered by insurance and liable to theft or damage by baggage handlers) and the security services (who have to check double the amount of hold baggage).
These measures miss some glaring holes, however.
Firstly, what if an explosive device (using the liquid explosive they seem to be worried about) were placed in checked-in luggage? Well, it might be argued that this would be spotted by the security checks but as we know from cases where newspapers have succeeded in getting dodgy bags through the system, this is not infalible. Also, this assumes an electronic timer, initiator and detenator, which may not be the case.
It is not rocket science to design and build a chemical based timer device (O.K. it is, but nothing a well funded small laboratory in the Australian outback couldn’t handle) which is accurate enough to detonate an explosive “somewhere over the Atlantic.”
Secondly, what about the clothing the people are wearing? Lots of explosive matterials could be made to be parts of clothing with things such as buttons etc. being components. They’re checking shoes, but nothing else. Will it be too risky to allow people onto a flight wearing their own clothing?
Thirdly, there’s the person’s body. Remember these people are not expecting to survive so worries about medium to long term health are not a concern. What if a “terrorist” were to swallow a device with a chemical timer and detenator held in an organic container which has a similar X-Ray contrast to other organs?
So, basically, the only way in the end to prevent such attacks using this blunt instrument would be a total ban on luggage, clothing and people from the aircraft.
Now, the problem is what *CAN* you do instead? That’s a very difficult question and it’s one I’m not sure I have an answer for. All I do know is that the current stance is untenable in the long term.