Newly issued data highlights how a sharp rise in the number of emergency US airport flight diversions occurred between January and March 2010, compared to the same period in 2009. No less than 35 security-based airport re-routes took place between 1 January and 31 March – a two-fold increase, according to the TSA (Transport Security Administration).
The US airport diversions represent only a very small proportion of the one-and-a-half million+ flights that were operated overall, but still showcase how the industry has reacted to the attempted Christmas Day 2009 mid-air explosion.
"People are quick to react to anything that's not normal”, a pilot with American Airlines, Gary Boettcher, told USA Today. “Any assault on everyday procedures is taken as a threat right away, so it can be nipped as soon as possible”, Boettcher – who used to preside over safety and security organisation the Coalition of Air Pilots – added.
From the airlines’ perspective, flight diversions are a costly exercise, with passengers having to be re-flown back to the airport they intended to reach in the first instance. Among the issues that can trigger airport security diversions are notably agitated passengers – noticed by the aircrew on board the aircraft concerned – or the need of authorities to look further into the backgrounds of certain passengers.
According to a report issued by the US Government three years ago, passenger behaviour triggered over 65 per cent of in-flight security upsets. As far as the most recent statistics are concerned, threats made by passengers under the influence of alcohol were a dominant factor.
15,500 US airport diversions were recorded throughout 2009, predominantly weather-related. Approximately 85 per cent of these made successful re-routes back to their original destination, post-stop.
In related news, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was reported to have ramped-up its security in light of a 7 April incident in which a Qatari official sparked security concerns whilst flying with United Airlines between Washington D.C and Denver. Extra terminal patrols and other measures were said to have now been introduced in its wake.