9/11 Report: Aviation Ten Years Later

 - August 24, 2011, 7:31 AM

For the complete report:

In the pain and bewilderment of September 11, 2001, only three things were certain: the U.S. had been hit hard in the homeland; the calendar suddenly had a new “before and after” marker; and aviation, the commandeered weapon of choice, would be on the leading edge of a cascade of change. Three questions dominated: who did this, why and what comes next?

To mark the passage of 10 years since that darkest of crackling-clear late-summer days, we reprint in this special section the entire coverage of 9/11 that filled the first 23 pages of the October 2001 edition of Aviation International News. The issue earned NBAA’s 2002 Gold Wing journalism award for its coverage of the events as they related to business aviation. We also examine how that cascade of change–simple enough to identify on the day but impossible to predict–has transpired.

Contrary to the very real concern that private airplanes might abruptly be worth their weight in scrap in the post-9/11 scheme of things, general aviation continues to function, albeit hamstrung by varying degrees of restriction imposed by a government still suspicious of what it perceives as the faceless and uncontrolled mobility of private aircraft. Reagan Washington National Airport is technically open to business aviation, but the hoops (such as the requirement to carry a TSA-approved armed guard) deter all but the most dogged operators. What had been a bustling bizav port serving the nation’s capital on 9/10/01 entered a prolonged government-induced coma on 9/11; today the Signature bizav facility’s vital signs are stronger, but it’s a shadow of its former vibrant self.

In the weeks and months following 9/11, pundits predicted that the jihadists would bring down airliners on home soil near U.S. airports using Manpads (shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles), and that by 2007 there would be carnage in shopping malls, school buses and countless other soft targets, but U.S. territory has evaded another major attack. There have been abortive attempts to fell American airliners since 9/11 (the shoe and underwear suicide bombers), and U.S. intelligence sources have reported that aviation remains the preferred avenue of attack–a suspicion fortified by numerous accounts of “dry runs” by suspect airline passengers.

Addressing the vulnerabilities 9/11 exposed has cost the world dearly in terms of dollars, and it has sorely tested a basic tenet of American society–that no man or woman shall be the victim of prejudice on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Our enemy on 9/11 was Islamic fundamentalism, and it continues to be so in conflicts in which the U.S. remains embroiled abroad today. However, in a particularly polarizing example of adherence to the Constitution’s edicts on fairness and equality, U.S. airlines and security officials are required by law not to single out Muslims for special scrutiny in airport security or on board an airliner until “an event” occurs. This adherence to the Constitution on behalf of an invisible enemy that wears no uniform is at once utterly unfathomable and profoundly admirable, depending on your viewpoint. Beyond the more obvious process of beefing up our nation’s fortifications and keeping a closer eye on people, it is issues such as this that we’ve had to wrestle with since 9/11.

The exuberant economic mood that began to build as we found our feet again after 9/11 probably helped numb the pain to some degree; it served as material proof that life goes on and the terrorists did not prevail. But in 2008 Lehman Brothers fell no less heavily than the Twin Towers, revealing shameful and devious flaws in the mechanisms that had propelled that half decade of exuberance.

So here we are, as these words take shape on August 9, in what S&P deems to be an AA+ nation; global stock markets are plummeting; London is burning; Norway is mourning; Somalia is starving; bin Laden is dead but the war in Afghanistan is not; and for those of us fortunate enough to have lived through 9/11 without losing any loved ones, perhaps that dark day, while never to be forgotten, is at last beginning to settle into history.