About The Series
Airport security has been at the forefront of Americans' minds since the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11. After an unprecedented halt in air traffic nationwide, the government took quick steps to ensure the public that the airports and airplanes are safe. But are they really?
We found major gaps in protecting both airplanes and airports. Part One, a look at Indianapolis International Airport, reveals lapses that, among other things, allow access to a private hangar at the airport within easy reach of large private jets and even big commercial airliners. And Part Two shows that, while big commercial airports like Indianapolis International have gotten all of the attention in the wake of September 11, small general aviation airports - there are thousands of them - are a disaster waiting to happen because they have virtually no security procedures.
This series was reported by Roger Harvey, photographed and edited by Bill Ditton, and produced by Kathleen Johnston and Gerry Lanosga.
It aired November 1 and 2, 2001.
Planes are on the move again at the Indianapolis International Airport - with a few changes. Soldiers patrol the terminal. Screeners check bags behind curtains.
Security, according to the government and the airlines, is tighter than ever.
So how was a consultant for Eyewitness News easily able to wander into a restricted area near the airport's runways without ever showing identification?
"No one appears curious about who I am or what I'm doing there," he said. "And remember, the runway is right here. I can walk to the other side and have access to an ATA jet, a United jet, or an American jet, and it wouldn't be a problem."
But it is a problem that can put lives at risk, and it was just one of the security lapses Eyewitness News found in a five-week investigation. Flight attendants and numerous other airline workers verified our findings of unchecked bags, chronic staff shortages, and the failure to match passengers with their tickets.
They question whether enough has changed since September 11.
"I feel safe on a plane," said flight attendant Renee Reiser, "but I have to believe in the security system and I have my doubts that that is really going to protect me."
Said a co-worker, Dawn Elder: "They think it's not going to happen here, who's going to fly out of Indy, nothing's going to happen here - and it could."
And easier than you might think, according to Marcus Schrenker. He's an experienced pilot we hired as a consultant to help assess Indianapolis airport security.
Schrenker wore a hidden camera into two private hangars at the airport. At one, he was questioned and given an escort as he walked through the facility.
But that wasn't the case at Raytheon Aircraft Services, one of the largest general private hangars at Indianapolis International. At the front desk, a woman asked if he needed help. Schrenker gave his own name and mentioned a company whose jet was on the tarmac. He has no connection to the business.
The receptionist sent Schrenker across the hangar, and from there, he was on his own, walking out to the jet without an escort, without an ID check, without any questions asked. Without proper authorization, Schrenker was able to walk right onto the tarmac and up to a private jet - within a stone's throw of commercial jets. That's a violation of Raytheon's strict new security procedures.
Eyewitness News obtained a letter Raytheon sent to its customers 10 days after the terrorist attacks. Among other things, it said, Raytheon will "provide employee escorts to visitors who do not have security passes."
A Raytheon official told us employees there do check for IDs, but said he wasn't allowed to comment on Schrenker because the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the matter.
It's under investigation because not only did Raytheon violate its own policy, it likely violated federal security regulations.
Aviation experts say breaches like this can't be taken lightly.
"It doesn't take a lot of scenario dreaming to come up with an operation that a well-organized terrorist operation could put together with a small plane," said Dale Oderman, an aviation technology professor at Purdue University.
We showed our videotape to David Roberts of BAA Indianapolis, which runs the airport.
"We actually passed it over to the FAA, and it's an ongoing FAA investigation, and as such, I can't talk about it," Roberts said.
The FAA would not comment for this story, but it's not the first time the agency has investigated such breaches. The agency cited Indianapolis International and its tenants 34 times over the last decade for violations involving ID badges and unauthorized access to the airfield area. That's more than at any other airport its size.
Nationwide, security at airport perimeters - where thousands of employees, vendors and general aviation passengers can gain access via entrances not open to the public - has been a major issue. In one federal audit at eight large airports, investigators gained unauthorized access to restricted areas 68 percent of the time they tried.
Bill Haug, an American Airlines pilot, said perimeter security clearly needs more attention.
"We feel there needs to be better security checks on the people who have access to the operations area and to the aircraft," he said.
Then there's the issue of security inside the airport. In spite of new restrictions, IDs aren't always scrutinized, most luggage still goes into the plane unchecked, and passenger screening remains a concern.
"I feel like we are always having to watch our back," said Kristen Grose, a flight attendant. "You're watching people, watching bags, watching the aisles."
"Things get through and that's a bother and that's what scares me," said Reiser. "Did they do their jobs so my job is safe?"
Not always. Federal records show FAA officials were able to slip weapons like hand grenades and dynamite past checkpoints at Indianapolis International 51 times since 1990. Again, that's more than any other airport its size.
"I had incidents where I'd run tests on other concourses and walk straight through with an object," said Troy McClendon, who until last year was a supervisor for Globe Aviation, the company that handles passenger screening for airlines here.
McClendon and current Globe employees say the company often tries to skirt FAA regulations.
"They'd do everything to get around them because they didn't have enough staffing," he said. "It was like an everyday thing. I'd come in some mornings, we wouldn't know if we had enough to open up."
Globe officials did not return calls from Eyewitness News, but airport officials acknowledged that turnover has been a major concern. And staffing is still an issue. In recent weeks, we watched as Globe turned to skycaps for help at security checkpoints. And unlike some other airports across the country, we found numerous instances where employees failed to match IDs with boarding passes.
Dr. Douglas Rex flew twice recently and asked an Indianapolis checkpoint screener why IDs weren't being checked against the tickets.
"She said it seemed like a good idea to her, but they had been told it wasn't necessary," Rex said.
But airline workers say since September 11, all safety measures are a necessity, from enforcing access to restricted areas to scanning checked bags, to improving passenger screening. They say their lives - and yours - depend on it.
"We're afraid to fly," said Reiser. "We do our jobs because they are our jobs, but until all these security measures are in place we are going to be afraid."
At small airports around central Indiana, there’s an open-door policy. Gates are wide open, planes are within easy reach, and no one is keeping watch. To aviation experts, it’s an invitation for trouble.
“Getting into a plane that’s parked on a ramp is much easier than getting into a car parked on the street,” said Dale Oderman, a Purdue University aviation professor who is a retired Air Force pilot.
Oderman said security of small planes was a concern even before September 11.
“The more credible threat was not to hijack an airliner and crash it into the World Trade Center, but to get yourself a Cessna or Piper and put explosives in it and crash it into something,” he said.
And it’s not a far-fetched scenario. Since the terrorist attacks nearly two months ago, a number of incidents around the country have shown the vulnerability of small airports. In Idaho, a man with a pipe bomb stole a small plane, for instance. In another case, a man tried to hijack a charter plane from a small airport in New Mexico.
But how easy is it to get access to a plane? Unbelievably easy, Eyewitness News found. We spent five weeks checking and re-checking the airports that handle most private air traffic in central Indiana.
They're considered small airports, but we're not talking about just a few flights. At Metropolitan, Mount Comfort and Eagle Creek airports, annual takeoffs and landings total more than 150,000. That's nearly two-thirds the number at Indianapolis International Airport.
And the planes are getting bigger all the time. They include large executive jets and even big cargo planes.
“You have very little security at small airports, so a terrorist pilot can perhaps steal a plane, or rent one as long as he has a pilot’s license,” said Paul Hudson of the Aviation Consumer Action Project in Washington, D.C.
And it wouldn't be that difficult. At Greenwood airport, we saw a wide open gate, with an open airplane just yards away. At Metropolitan, pedestrian gates were standing open next to the hangars. At Eagle Creek, the main gate's security keypad is useless, because we found it open for anyone to drive through. Even when the gate’s closed, entry can be gained with a universal, easily-cracked code.
The lack of security is no secret to pilots.
At Mount Comfort, a pilot showed us just how easy it is to open an unlocked gate, walk right through, and go 25 yards to his hangar. Once there, within seconds, you can pry open the door and have access to a plane – without anyone ever questioning you.
Marcus Schrenker, a pilot Eyewitness News hired as a security consultant, said he and others have complained repeatedly about security lapses – such as the lack of simple deadbolt locks – at Mount Comfort.
Things are so lax, Schrenker said, that hangar doors can be pried open easily with a screwdriver. He and other pilots said it happens frequently.
“Mechanics call it the master key at Indianapolis airports,” he said. “That's how good our security is here. This is our master key.”
Schrenker demonstrated the technique on his own hangar.
“Voila,” he said, “you have access to a high performance airplane.... It’s that easy.
“Really we could walk into any hangar, pull any plane out and in a matter of minutes have access, have it started and take off.”
Or a person could simply drive up to a plane, as we were able to do at Mount Comfort. Within two minutes, a plane could be over downtown Indianapolis, and there’s no one around to stop it from happening.
Chuck Vogt, who lives in the flight path of Metropolitan Airport in Fishers, called Eyewitness News to voice concern that security at small airports is being overlooked.
“There should be someone, some sort of watchdog to see what happens and what takes off and what lands and what cargo is loaded on a plane,” Vogt said.
It makes sense, but guess what? There is no watchdog for small airport security. That’s right, despite how busy they are, the government doesn't require them to have security – not even a fence. An spokeswoman at the Federal Aviation Administration said that issue is under review in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But the lack of security doesn't seem to bother David Roberts of BAA Indianapolis, which is responsible for most of the small airports around Indianapolis. He said security is adequate.
“I don’t have a concern that we should be turning (general aviation) airfields into armed camps,” he said. “That’s not their purpose.”
Armed camps are not what pilots and aviation experts are asking for. They simply want existing gates locked, and airplanes made more secure.
“I think if small airplane operators and managers think it's only a problem for the big ones,” said Purdue’s Dale Oderman, “then they have their heads stuck in the sand.”
A rash of hijackings first prompted the federal government to implement airport security regulations in 1972. The rules, enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration, require a security program at any airport where airplanes have 30 or more passengers. Airport operators, airlines and other companies or individuals subject to the requirements can be fined for violating the provisions.
Eyewitness News examined an FAA database of security violations at airports nationwide. Among our findings:
In security tests nationwide since 1990, the FAA documented 4,351 cases in which airport screeners failed to detect weapons hidden in carry-on bags. There were 4,846 cases of record-keeping and access issues (unauthorized people in restricted areas or problems with perimeter security, for instance). In another 29,944 cases, passengers or other individuals were stopped for various violations, including trying to get weapons past security checkpoints.
At Indianapolis International since 1990, there were 51 cases in which screeners employed by airlines failed to properly detect weapons. They included 15 encased weapons, 11 dynamite bombs, 8 hand grenades and a pipe bomb.
The FAA issued monetary fines in only 11 of those cases, for a total of $53,000 (information on the specifics of individual cases was not available). In three cases, including two in which screeners failed to detect dynamite bombs, it took no action. In five cases, the agency issued a letter of correction. In the rest, it issued warning letters.
Indianapolis International is the nation’s 46th busiest airport, but had the 26th highest number of screening violations since 1990 (see Table 1). Indianapolis was tops for screening violations among similarly-sized airport (defined as those with between three million and four million departing passengers annually). Indianapolis also saw more access violations than similarly-sized airports (see Table 2).
Finally, the FAA documented more than 400 cases in which passengers and others were caught with firearms at Indianapolis security checkpoints since 1990. In 335 of those cases, the weapons were loaded. The FAA issued fines totaling $41,249 in 69 cases.
TABLE 1: AIRPORT SCREENING VIOLATIONS 1990 TO PRESENT
|1||THE WILLIAM B HARTSFIELD ATLANTA INTL||ATLANTA||GA||40,081,204||60|
|2||CHICAGO O'HARE INTL||CHICAGO||IL||36,072,122||94|
|3||LOS ANGELES INTL||LOS ANGELES||CA||33,212,384||104|
|4||DALLAS/FORT WORTH INTL||DALLAS-FT. WORTH||TX||30,343,561||193|
|5||SAN FRANCISCO INTL||SAN FRANCISCO||CA||20,520,498||113|
|7||MC CARRAN INTL||LAS VEGAS||NV||18,432,933||37|
|8||MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL INTL/WOLD- |
|9||PHOENIX SKY HARBOR INTL||PHOENIX||AZ||18,020,235||63|
|10||DETROIT METROPOLITAN WAYNE COUNTY||DETROIT||MI||17,767,540||142|
|14||JOHN F KENNEDY INTL||NEW YORK||NY||16,428,110||187|
|16||LAMBERT-ST LOUIS INTL||ST LOUIS||MO||15,280,694||63|
|18||GENERAL EDWARD LAWRENCE LOGAN INTL||BOSTON||MA||13,706,463||245|
|19||LA GUARDIA||NEW YORK||NY||12,687,433||60|
|23||CINCINNATI/NORTHERN KENTUCKY INTL||COVINGTON/ |
|24||WASHINGTON DULLES INTL||WASHINGTON||DC||9,985,630||57|
|25||SALT LAKE CITY INTL||SALT LAKE CITY||UT||9,950,405||30|
|29||FORT LAUDERDALE/HOLLYWOOD INTL||FORT LAUDERDALE||FL||7,930,002||27|
|30||SAN DIEGO INTL-LINDBERGH FLD||SAN DIEGO||CA||7,910,171||23|
|35||SAN JOSE INTERNATIONAL||SAN JOSE||CA||6,548,630||50|
|36||KANSAS CITY INTL||KANSAS CITY||MO||6,175,363||68|
|38||METROPOLITAN OAKLAND INTL||OAKLAND||CA||5,481,901||36|
|40||NEW ORLEANS INTL/MOISANT FLD||NEW ORLEANS||LA||4,937,129||57|
|41||WILLIAM P HOBBY||HOUSTON||TX||4,552,444||28|
|45||JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT-ORANGE COUNTY||SANTA ANA||CA||3,886,401||33|
|47||BRADLEY INTL||WINDSOR LOCKS||CT||3,669,372||33|
|48||SAN ANTONIO INTL||SAN ANTONIO||TX||3,652,668||23|
|49||DALLAS LOVE FIELD||DALLAS||TX||3,538,775||23|
|50||PORT COLUMBUS INTL||COLUMBUS||OH||3,436,999||44|
|54||GENERAL MITCHELL INTL||MILWAUKEE||WI||3,038,314||30|
|55||PALM BEACH INTL||WEST PALM BEACH||FL||2,921,297||22|
|58||SOUTHWEST FLORIDA INTL||FORT MYERS||FL||2,603,601||14|
|WEAPONS=Number of weapons screeners failed to detect|
|PASSENGERS=Number of departing passengers annually|
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Airports Council International
TABLE 2: SECURITY ACCESS VIOLATIONS, 1990 TO PRESENT
|1||THE WILLIAM B HARTSFIELD ATLANTA INTL||ATLANTA||GA||40,081,204||58|
|2||CHICAGO O'HARE INTL||CHICAGO||IL||36,072,122||52|
|3||LOS ANGELES INTL||LOS ANGELES||CA||33,212,384||156|
|4||DALLAS/FORT WORTH INTL||DALLAS-FORT WORTH||TX||30,343,561||48|
|5||SAN FRANCISCO INTL||SAN FRANCISCO||CA||20,520,498||111|
|7||MC CARRAN INTL||LAS VEGAS||NV||18,432,933||14|
|8||MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL INTL/WOLD-CHAMBERLAIN||MINNEAPOLIS||MN||18,375,816||71|
|9||PHOENIX SKY HARBOR INTL||PHOENIX||AZ||18,020,235||23|
|10||DETROIT METROPOLITAN WAYNE COUNTY||DETROIT||MI||17,767,540||78|
|14||JOHN F KENNEDY INTL||NEW YORK||NY||16,428,110||99|
|16||LAMBERT-ST LOUIS INTL||ST LOUIS||MO||15,280,694||59|
|18||GENERAL EDWARD LAWRENCE LOGAN INTL||BOSTON||MA||13,706,463||85|
|19||LA GUARDIA||NEW YORK||NY||12,687,433||23|
|23||CINCINNATI/NORTHERN KENTUCKY INTL||COVINGTON/ |
|24||WASHINGTON DULLES INTL||WASHINGTON||DC||9,985,630||90|
|25||SALT LAKE CITY INTL||SALT LAKE CITY||UT||9,950,405||14|
|29||FORT LAUDERDALE/HOLLYWOOD INTL||FORT LAUDERDALE||FL||7,930,002||27|
|30||SAN DIEGO INTL-LINDBERGH FLD||SAN DIEGO||CA||7,910,171||49|
|35||SAN JOSE INTERNATIONAL||SAN JOSE||CA||6,548,630||12|
|36||KANSAS CITY INTL||KANSAS CITY||MO||6,175,363||20|
|38||METROPOLITAN OAKLAND INTL||OAKLAND||CA||5,481,901||29|
|40||NEW ORLEANS INTL/MOISANT FLD||NEW ORLEANS||LA||4,937,129||43|
|41||WILLIAM P HOBBY||HOUSTON||TX||4,552,444||36|
|44||AUSTIN-BERGSTROM INTL AIRPORT||AUSTIN||TX||3,930,074||10|
|45||JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT-ORANGE COUNTY||SANTA ANA||CA||3,886,401||13|
|47||BRADLEY INTL||WINDSOR LOCKS||CT||3,669,372||8|
|48||SAN ANTONIO INTL||SAN ANTONIO||TX||3,652,668||10|
|49||DALLAS LOVE FIELD||DALLAS||TX||3,538,775||32|
|50||PORT COLUMBUS INTL||COLUMBUS||OH||3,436,999||28|
|54||GENERAL MITCHELL INTL||MILWAUKEE||WI||3,038,314||29|
|55||PALM BEACH INTL||WEST PALM BEACH||FL||2,921,297||11|
|58||SOUTHWEST FLORIDA INTL||FORT MYERS||FL||2,603,601||3|
|Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Airports Council International|