Vulnerability of airliners exposed

The last thing you expect when you're flying in a plane is to get shot down.

    Airlines do not feel the risk is great enough to act

    But a New York court case on Wednesday has shown it is easier than you may think.

    An American sting operation has highlighted how easily people can

    obtain cheap, shoulder-mounted missiles and the

    vulnerability of airliners to attack.

    At the same time, British Airways has cancelled flights to Saudi

    Arabia on grounds of "increased security

    risks in the region".


    Air attack is a subject no one in the

    aviation industry wants to talk about because it could scare

    off passengers and there is little that can be done.

    Mombasa attack

    "Airliners come into Heathrow (airport) on a leisurely,

    gentle descent...they cannot fly like a fighter jet and escape

    the lock-on of a missile"

    Andrew Brookes,
    Aerospace analyst

    The danger was dramatically highlighted last November when two

    missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane taking off

    from Kenya's seaside resort of Mombasa.

    However, costs and other

    factors make a quick fix unlikely. 

    "This thing is one of the great kept secrets that people

    don't want to talk about, especially with airlines having the

    (financial) problems they have," said aerospace analyst Andrew



    "Once you're in a sedate climb or descent, you're into an extremely vulnerable situation.

    "Airliners come into Heathrow (airport) on a leisurely,

    gentle descent...they cannot fly like a fighter jet and escape

    the lock-on of a missile.

    "Any military man trained in these

    should have no problem in shooting one down."

    Russian missiles

    Russian SAM shoulder-mounted missiles can be bought for less

    than $1000 and their portable size makes them easy to hide.


    a range of 5km, anybody could target planes

    landing or taking off from well beyond airport perimeters.

    But cost remains the biggest impediment to effective preventative action.

    Francis Tusa, editor

    of the London-based Defence Analysis, said:


    The cost of making airliners safe is prohibitive and the

    problem has been thrust into the spotlight at a time when the

    industry is still struggling to recover from the September 11


    "It could cost $10 billion for US airlines to equip (with safety measures) the

    6000 or so planes they have flying.

    There is no way they could afford that." 

    And analysts say airlines do not feel the risk is great enough

    to act.

    "For airlines there's still a cost-benefit equation and

    getting shot down by a missile remains improbable," said one

    industry official.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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