Friday 25 August 2006

Much terror out of a mobile phone and a plastic bag

We too are now in it

One has at times commented about how the large and influential country of the Netherlands sometimes adopts a “me too” persona, to as it were, appear involved, relevant and at the centre of issues.

The Netherlands is in many cases quite influential in many ways, the international courts of justice are resident here; for a country with such little land space we are one of the largest food exporters; we used to be the most tolerant and liberal democracy and society amongst other things.

What has changed is that we now have little-minded politicians and leaders whose lack of initiative, foresight and stature projects the face of the Netherlands in less grander terms than when leaders of greater standing and stature ruled this beautiful land.

It is my prayer that come November when elections take place, a better crop of politicians come forward to lead this land; though, that is not to say that society itself has not changed to accommodate the mediocre over the better qualified.

A flight of fantasy

Just to illustrate how this war on terror has become an irrational fear of terror exciting hysteria, histrionics, and subjective conjecture we have now had our own flight scare which involved aborting a journey to Mumbai (Bombay) with the return to Schiphol and the arrest of 12 passengers.

Apparently, several passengers were fidgeting with mobile phones and plastic bags in what the Minister of Justice has now said is behaviour not normally seen amongst average passengers.

The cabin crew observed the behaviour in which the pilot and captain of the aircraft would have acted; the decision to turn the plane back would have been taken after some consideration and consultation with airport security – this led up the chain to the Minister of Justice who probably in conjunction with other cabinet colleagues like the Defence and Internal Affairs ministers scrambled two F-16 fighter planes to escort the plane back to Schiphol.

The F-16 fighter planes could have under certain circumstances been permitted to shoot down the plane that contained 149 souls and the crew, thankfully, that did not happen.

However, before landing, a good deal of the jet fuel was let out over the IJsselmeer to lighten the aircraft.

It now transpires that this terrorist scare might have been an overreaction to a perfectly normal situation where coincidences might have appeared as some pre-planned activity – the 12 would be freed and released without charge.

The big questions about air travel

My concern with this new event highlights a few issues that need serious analysis.

  • What training have cabin crew all around the world received to appreciate possible terrorist threats from normal behavioural patterns to be expected from people in an enclosed space on a long-haul flight?
  • What really constitutes normal average flight passenger behaviour in this day and age? Everyone is tense and anxious, these emotions could very well becloud observation and vigilance.
  • What evidence would have been required to shoot down the plane along with its “innocent” passengers and crew and where would it have been shot down, since the flight path towards Bombay would most likely have been over land?
  • What are the consequences of releasing thousands of litres of kerosene fuel into a lake which has active wildlife and human usage?
  • Have captains on flights the requisite skills to make objective assessments of potential terrorist situations which are quite different from passenger irresponsibility situations?
  • What has happened to the joy of air travel in the last few years?

The world, a bigger place

In the end, if air travel is to become so fraught with uncertainties, the world which became a smaller place in the 20th Century is on the verge of becoming a much larger place in the 21st Century as we switch back to land and sea travel.

Basically, what is required is greater sophistication in passenger screening before they board flights, but this all has to be in proportion without infringing on rights and freedoms and subjective profiling.

The complexities and logistics of airport security are illustrated in the Air Travel Security Planning Map on pages 4 and 5, there is no doubt that there have to be new ways of doing things for air travel to return to a pleasurable and exciting experience – that could be a long way off.


Donner plays down terror link after Schiphol scare

BBC NEWS | Europe | Jet alert suspects 'to be freed'

An Air Travel Security Planning Map (Pages 4 & 5) [The Wayback Machine]

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