UPDATE: November 7, 2015
U.S. AND BRITISH OFFICIALS are now saying, at least tentatively, that an explosive device likely downed the Kogalymavia Airbus over the Sinai peninsula last weekend. The thinking is that the local Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State group, better known as ISIS, placed a bomb on board the A321 prior to its departure from the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh.
Mr. Smirnov (see original post, below) might be correct after all, albeit by default.
If so, this becomes the deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner since the downing of UTA flight 772 by Libya in 1989 (not long after the similar, Libyan-backed bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in December, 1988).
Most of you are thinking, UTA bombing? What’s that? It’s important to remember that the bombing of civilian jetliners isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Civil aviation has long been a target for politically motivated terrorists, and there have been dozens of serious attacks over the years — so many that we tend to forget even some of the serious ones.
Most of those attacks, it’s true, happened a long time ago. The nightmare of September 11th notwithstanding, we Americans, in particular, have been lucky. It’s been almost thirty years since the bombing of Pan Am 103. Whether we’ve been so fortunate because of, or in spite of, our cultural and political fixation with security, is debatable, but nevertheless it’s impressive.
I’m not suggesting we should view any violent attack nonchalantly, or that there shouldn’t be a price exacted against the perpetrators of mass-murder. But, if nothing else, let’s keep things in perspective, and not panic.
Already we’re hearing rumblings from TSA and other agencies, alleging that airport security needs to be tightened even further. This is worrying for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not yet clear this was a bombing. Unless they’re withholding some classified information, TSA’s comments strike me as a bit premature, and a little worrying. For one, we’re not yet sure this was a bombing. And if indeed it was, do we have any idea who the perpetrators were, precisely, or how they got the bomb on board? How do we fix it when we don’t even know what’s broken?
What I fear is this will spur yet another round of irrational and ultimately ineffective security measures that will serve little purpose beyond making the already-tedious air travel experience even worse. What were the lapses? What were the loopholes? What needs to be done? These were the same questions asked in the wake of September 11th — wrongly, it must be said, as the attacks has little or nothing to do with airport security in the first place. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
There is a certainly a need for passenger and baggage screening, don’t get me wrong. But that screening needs to be rational, efficient, and reasonably non-invasive. Beyond that, I can only repeat what I’ve said countless times: short of turning our airports into fortresses, there will always be a way for a determined and resourceful enough saboteur to circumvent whatever safeguards we put in place. In the end, the task of keeping bombs off planes is not really an airport security issue at all. It is the job of intelligence and law enforcement — FBI, the CIA, Interpol, and so on — working to disrupt plots and plotters before they ever get to the airport.
November 3, 2015
THE RUSSIANS are crack investigators, that’s for sure. First they solved the MH17 disaster, and now, with the wreckage still smoldering and before the data or voice recorders have been analyzed, they’ve figured out the crash of the Kogalymavia Airbus A321 in the Sinai desert.
More specifically, they’ve determined what did not cause the accident: pilot error or mechanical malfunction. This according to various news reports, including a somewhat lazy article by the New York Times, quoting officials of Kogalymavia. “The plane was in excellent condition,” said Alexander Smirnov, the carrier’s deputy general director. “We rule out a technical fault and any mistake by the crew.”
I’m unsure what possessed Mr. Smirnov to say such a reckless and unfounded thing. An airline executive should know better, and his indiscretion does not reflect well on his company. There is no reason at all, at this juncture, to outright dismiss any potential cause, including, or even especially, mechanical failure. To their credit, Russian government investigators acknowledge this and have responded more reasonably. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the statements from Kogalymavia have been taken seriously by the media and are making headlines worldwide.
“Most people assume if someone knows about aviation they know about aviation safety,” says Christine Negroni, aviation blogger and author of the upcoming book Lost and Confounded. “It is not the case. Safety and accident forensics are part of a separate specialty. Metrojet’s Alexander Smirnov may know airlines, but he doesn’t know squat about air crash investigations. Had his comments been subjected to the smell test they would not have led the news cycle.”
As some have noted, the Airbus involved in the crash had been involved in a tail-strike incident some years ago. That’s when the plane’s tail section contacts the the ground during takeoff or, more commonly, landing. Most tail strikes are harmless, but occasionally there’s damage to the skin or inner structure.
This may or may not have anything to do with the plane breaking up over the Sinai. However, we can’t help remembering the Japan Airlines flight 123, catastrophe in 1985 — the second-deadliest disaster in airline history. More than five-hundred people were killed when the 747’s aft pressure bulkhead blew out, disabling the plane’s rudder. That aircraft, too, had suffered an earlier tail strike, and investigators determined that the damage had been improperly repaired.
Airbus and Kogalymavia say the A321 was repaired correctly and has been routinely inspected ever since.
The plane had been bound for St. Petersburg from Sharm-el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort city popular with Russian and European tourists.
And pardon my snarkiness with respect to MH17. But here we are more than a year after the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down, killing over three-hundred passengers and crew. The Russians still deny culpability and nobody has been held accountable. I hate to say it, but owing to geopolitics, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be held accountable.