The cowardly attacks on the people of the United States that took place several days ago should never have happened and would not have happened had the Federal Aviation Administration and the management of the various airlines done what a large group of airplane pilots, including myself, had tried to get them to do about 35 years ago.
Back in the early 1960s a considerable number of planes were hijacked to Havana by malcontents who wanted to go to Cuba. In these incidents no one was seriously injured that I know of except for a crime near Boston in which the co-pilot of an Eastern Air Lines, Inc. DC-9 was sho and killed. The captain was shot and seriously wounded, but he managed to land the plane before losing consciousness. I knew the captain and his name is Robert Wilbur. The attitude of the management of almost every airline was for the pilots not to resist in any way, but to go to Havana, if possible.
We wanted a really meaningful means of bolting the cockpit door, a bulletproof bulkhead between the cockpit and the passenger compartment (capable of at least stopping any handgun bullet) and the right of the pilots (on a voluntary basis) to be armed. Lightweight armor that meets these requirements was available at that time for about $11 per square foot. This armor was made right here on Long Island. It could have been installed for a few thousand dollars per plane. There would have been a slight weight penalty to the plane, but so is an armed guard a weight penalty. Once installed, you do not have to pay it a salary as you do the guard.
I heard at least a dozen reasons put forth by management as to why none of this should be done. Every reason put forth was either based on a false premise or was simply because of the cost. Oh well, nobody said that management had to be intelligent.
During this period of time I attended a class on the psychology of the type of hijacker who wanted to go to Cuba and how to thwart him. The class was excellent and those who had taken it and were later the victims of a hijacker were almost always successful in thwarting the demand without anyone getting hurt and without going to Havana. However, the instructor said that they did not know how to thwart an Arab terrorist. At about this same time, I also attended a seminar for those pilots who had in any way been involved in a hijacking. At this meeting an FBI representative told us that they did not know how to thwart an Arab terrorist and that such a type of hijacking was certain to happen in the United States in the future. It had already happened overseas. Thus, you can see that the terrorism of a few days ago was foreseen and was inevitable.
If our well thought out ideas had been followed, these four hijackings could not have been carried out. First, they could not have gotten into the cockpits of the planes. The criminals did not have any firearms. Second, if by some chance they had been able to get into the cockpits, an armed pilot could have finished them off.
The total cost to follow these suggestions on every airliner in the United States from that date to the present would have been a tiny fraction of the financial cost of the recent events, and that does not even take into consideration the secondary costs nor the thousands of lives that have been needlessly lost.
Eugene W. Garges Jr.