Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari traveled from Portland to Boston early on Tuesday, September 11. What was about to happen would mark a before and after in the history of the West. During the luggage check, Atta was selected by the Automatic Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS) to perform a special security inspection. At that time, the regulations stated that suitcases had to remain off the plane until it was confirmed that the passenger had boarded the flight. But that little incident did not change the terrorists’ plans.
Upon arriving in Boston, Atta and Al-Omari passed through security checks at Logan International Airport as normal. They placed the carry-on luggage on the X-ray scanner tape and they went through the old metal detector arch. The agents did not identify in the inspection the knife and the pepper spray that they allegedly would have used later to subdue the crew and went to the boarding gate. There they would board the second plane bound for Los Angeles, American Airlines Flight 11, which would later crash into the north tower of the Twin Towers.
This detailed account is reflected in the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks (9/11 Commission), which was launched by then-President George Bush to analyze the mistakes that had been made in the airport and aeronautical activity that day and prevent future attacks not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
The investigation laid the groundwork for radically changing security controls at airports and introducing new regulations and screening technologies that are often a headache for passengers, but provide a safe journey to the destination. «9/11 changed the way of flying for everyone and airport security controls were tightened to prevent terrorist attacks ”, explains to ABC Javier Martín-Chico, director of the technical department of Sepla (Spanish Union of Airline Pilots).
“Since then, the security filters are much more exhaustive: take off your shoes, remove your belt and coat and place them on the trays that pass through the X-ray machines, ”says the pilot. Raising the arms into a 360-degree body scan was also a first.
The inspection of laptops and electronic devices They became particularly important after the attacks, so now they have to be drawn and scanned; metal detectors are much more sensitive, to the point of identifying a coin in a pocket, and explosive trace detectors set off alarms if the traveler has previously been in contact with hazardous material.
Fluid control was essential to protect airplanes against the threat of liquid explosives. AENA sources told ABC that this measure reached the airports after the imminent attack attempts in 2006 in London, where they tried to attack with liquid explosives, and triggered the control and inspection of the same in hand luggage. Since then, it is only allowed to transport liquids in containers with a capacity not exceeding 100 milliliters and inside a transparent plastic bag, allowing only one bag per passenger.
Airplanes have also undergone radical changes after 9/11. «The doors we were carrying were uninstalled and they were replaced by armored ones that weigh almost a hundred kilos“, Says the pilot from Sepla, and emphasizes that” from the outside it is absolutely impossible to open. ” A code system was also created that locks the cockpit door. The crew knows the code, but that doesn’t mean they can open the cabin. The unlocking of the cabin is authorized after the flight attendant calls and once the pilot confirms through the security cameras the identity of the caller and that he is not threatened.
“Before 9/11, no one expected hijackers to blow themselves up inside a plane,” says Martín-Chico. The terrorists Mohamed Atta on American Airlines Flight 11 and Marwan al-Shehii on United Airlines Flight 175 took control of the plane and they were the only two radicals who were prepared to pilot The aircraft.
These security measures had to be rethought years later when the tragic event of the Germanwings plane happened. In 2015, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz did not allow his partner to enter the cockpit and crashed the ship into the French Alps with 150 passengers on board. “It was always thought that the threat would be outside and here it was inside,” says the Sepla pilot.
In the wake of this episode, psychological and medical controls for pilots have been increased. By regulation, all air operators have to have a pilot assistance program (PAPI) so that they notify one of their colleagues if they are going through a bad time and are not fit to fly.
Incident in Barajas
The most recent problem is incidents caused by drones, unmanned aerial vehicles that daily fly over the city and sare intervened by the ‘air police’. Last year, an incident with drones at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport discovered a blind spot near the airfield, which could not be identified by the interception system of these devices. The alert meant the total closure for more than an hour and the diversion of at least twenty flights. According to AENA, «response protocols have been implemented in the face of this type of threat at the European level ”, as a result of various incidents with drones that have taken place in recent years, particularly those in the United Kingdom and Spain.