The word is just coming out now about an airplane that crashed into an office building in Austin, TX.
Already the reporting is all over the place about the intentions of the pilot, how the plane was flying (“full throttle” by one account, but how does someone on the ground know the throttle settings of an plane?). Just like the Cory Liddle crash into an apartment in Manhattan, there is a ton of speculation going on.
So, what should we in the aviation security industry watch for? First, we’ll see the panic of “these small unsecured aircraft at unsecured airports.” Followed by rule-making efforts by politicians to add more regulations to small aircraft.
It’s too early to start speculating on what really happened here. Despite all the media reports, most of which are erroneous, we should deal with the emergency right now, then figure out what really happened.
General aviation security has been an issue for many years, with arguments on both sides about whether more security is needed. I’m sure this will also re-energize the Large Aircraft Security Program discussion.
First, understand that this has happened before. In 1994, a man stole a small Cessna aircraft and flew it into the White House. In 2002, a 16-year-old stole a Cessna 172 and flew it into the Bank of America building. In both incidents, with the exception of the pilots, there were no injuries and the damage was minimal. In this instance, the fire seems to have caused some major damage and lives were in danger, but to compare the threat of these small planes, and their kinetic energy to a 9.11.01 style attack, is apples to oranges.
Second, while there are those that will say that without an airplane this attack would not have been possible or so destructive, allow me to point you towards the numerous active shooter incidents we’ve seen played out over our history. From Columbine to V-Tech to numerous business office shootings, we’ve seen far more people killed and buildings damaged due to fire, pipe bombs, etc, than all the small aircraft accidents combined. I’m a college professor and frankly in my list of risks, I put “campus-shooting” higher in the risk category, than someone crashing a plane into the building.
Third, the plane hit an office building. If you’re going to be inside a structure that’s going to be hit by a small plane, an office building provides you arguably more protection than your house or in the open. Office buildings have reinforced structures, sprinkler and fire alarm systems. That’s why you can build them closer to airports than residential communities.
If this truly was an incident targeting the IRS, this is less an aviation security issue than it is a isolated incident of rage against a government entity. It’s part of that world that we live in that says the government cannot protect us from every bad thing that can happen to us at all times.
And we’re still not sure this was intentional so let’s keep the jury out until we know more.