Manager talks security at airport

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 4, 2010

Security in the skies is back in the public spotlight, whichleads many to wonder what precautions are taken at a communityairport in an age of constant vigilance against terrorism.

After a would-be terrorist attempted to use explosives in hisunderwear to bring down the Detroit-bound Airbus A330 with 290people on board, Brookhaven Municipal Airport Manager Dr. Al Morrowsaid those kinds of incidents are obviously extremely rare.

“We had the shoe guy a few years ago, and we caught him, and nowwe know about the underpants guy,” he said. “That’s two in about 61million people who have flown since 9/11 that actually slippedthrough security and made it on to planes.”

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In the air, there’s a lot more security than the general publicis actually aware of, Morrow said.

“There’s more control in airplanes because you have transpondersthat broadcast who you are and where you’re going,” he said.

And to a small airport like Brookhaven’s, security measures arecertain, but there is relatively little threat, as local pilotcircles are small and close-knit. In addition, he said, pilots tendto work on something of an honor code.

“These terrorist acts are a real bug in the ointment to pilots,because they’re perpetrated by passengers who set out withmalicious intent,” he said. “These individuals are making an effortto create fear in the population of our country.”

Morrow went on to point out that while some of the 9/11terrorists had taken flying lessons, none of them were pilots, perse.

“Someone who has gone through the hundreds of hours of training,and hundreds of hours of flying and testing, and all the things aman or woman who gets licensed has to go through, you’re not goingto do that,” he said. “Pilots have put too much time and money andtraining in to have a political agenda.”

Morrow said his airport has security measures in place to keeptabs on happenings on airport property. Several federal agenciescheck in on the facility at random times by phone and in person tomake sure things on the ground are kosher.

Morrow said the Federal Aviation Administration is on the phoneseveral times a week, as is the aviation division of theMississippi Department of Transportation. In addition, HomelandSecurity and the Environmental Protection Agency representativesare also frequent visitors. Plus, simply knowing each other isstrong protection at a small airport.

“There are only 38 people who keep their planes out here,” hesaid. “You see those people regularly and know who those peopleare. Everyone here is looking out for everyone else, because wewant to keep each other’s planes safe.”

The airport is also patrolled by Brookhaven police, and Morrowsaid any crimes perpetrated at the airport would be investigated bythe Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s a federal offense to mess with an airplane,” he said. “Andif you broke out the runway lights or something, locally that wouldbe destruction of property, but it would also carry federalcharges.”

Morrow said Brookhaven’s airport is much more likely to facetrouble from criminals like drug smugglers than terrorists, butthat local narcotics task force agents keep a close eye onsuspicious activity.

“We’re not an international airport, and we don’t bring inflights from other countries because we don’t have access tocustoms,” he said. “But we monitor fuel sales and comings andgoings after hours just to keep a handle on things. If we findsomething suspicious, all the information goes to the properauthorities.”