By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 10/12/2006 4:33:07 PM ET 2006-10-12T20:33:07
COMMENTARY

We were getting ready for our broadcast yesterday when the news came from NBC's network desk. A plane struck a high rise in Manhattan.

No one spoke at first. The looks on all our faces revealed the same thought—not again.

As the hour unfolded, it was clear that this was not another 9/11.  While it was a tragedy that claimed the lives of Yankees' pitcher Cory Lidle and a flight instructor, it was an accident and not terrorism.

But it raised a few questions for us. Many of us live in Manhattan and hear planes flying overhead daily. Why, five years after that colossal tragedy, have we not restricted the airspace over the island?  And for that matter, what about all the nation's most likely targets, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Sears Tower?

Our intention is not to be dramatic or to scare people, but we wondered if there is any real possibility that terrorists could use smaller planes and perhaps depart from an airport like the one Lidle used--small, regional, and private.

Did this accident shed light on a vulnerability in our aviation security?

We asked Doug Laird, an aviation security expert and the president of a company that specializes in counterterrorism.

"The Most": Are the aviation rules different for these small, private planes?

Doug Laird, aviation security expert: Yes. Pilots are not required to file a flight plan for smaller planes as they do for commercial ones under FAA rules.  Those planes are not required to have a transponder. That's a device that identifies the plane location by radar and the tail number, to identify a plane's owner.  Since 9/11 the rules have changed a bit to improve security to some degree, but not much.


"The Most": You've said that the security at Teterboro airport is similar to security at all small, general aviation airports.  Virtually no screening.  Did this accident reveal a vulnerability?

Laird: Those airports have fencing, lights, perimeter security but little else.  It is a realistic threat that terrorists could use smaller planes, but they already know that.  It's not practical to have the same security for small aircraft that we have for larger ones. It costs to much.   A commercial plane carries 1000 pounds of fuel.  These smaller planes can't do that kind of damage.  A 32 foot flat-bed truck will do more damage than a small plane.  You can't secure the whole world.

"The Most": Should we restrict the airspace around Manhattan?

Laird: I don't see that as practical.  When they restrict airspace, all they do is say you shouldn't fly into these places. If you violate the airspace rule, you'll lose your license for 30-60 days.  That's all.

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