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Airline Security Calculus

It is my hope that the recent attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to attack an airliner on Christmas Day results in absolutely no changes in procedure at American airports. Amidst all of the posturing and apologies and useless attempts to place blame, we all seem to have lost the notion of “common sense” in our approach to airline security.

Security experts have stated that three changes since 2001 have demonstrably improved air travel security: (1) reinforced cockpit doors, (2) armed air marshalls, and (3) the passenger attitude that “we aren’t going to take it any more.” Everything else is pointless flailing. Indeed, it was exactly this third change that brought down both the “shoe bomber” and Abdulmutallab.

As unpleasant as it is, we must use a kind of morbid calculus to determine the cost/benefit ratio when assessing security procedures. If an aircraft carrying 100 passengers crashes, assuming an average age of about 35, a collective total of about 30 million hours of productive life will have been lost. In comparison, there are (within an order of magnitude) roughly a billion airlines trips every year. Assuming a conservative one hour of inconvenience per passenger, that means the largely symbolic enhancements to passenger screening instituted by the Transportation Safety Administration have cost this country ten billion hours of lost American productivity since 2001.

Let me put that another way. Every two days, airport delays cost this country the equivalent of one human life in lost productivity. Does anyone really believe that additional security is saving one life every two days?   If not, then the TSA is not a “net win” for this country.

At some point, enough is enough. What happens if the terrorists figure out how to weave explosives into their clothing? Will the TSA respond by requiring that all passengers fly naked? I wish I were more convinced that could not happen.

Posted in Opinion.

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