Eintime Conversion for education and research 05-14-2006 @ 17:21:32
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Am Airlines Exemption On Terrorism*

Page 3A

American Airlines gets exception on name-check rules

By Blake Morrison


The Federal Aviation Administration has given American Airlines special permission to allow passengers to board its flights before the airline determines whether they are on the FBI's watch list, according to an FAA security directive obtained by USA TODAY.

The directive, issued Saturday, affects only American Airlines and comes despite concerns by an FAA security official that the procedure could lead to another hijacking. It also conflicts with directives ordering all other airlines to compare names ''immediately.''

Although the directive allows American to ''board passengers prior to comparing'' their names with the list of individuals sought for questioning, it prohibits crews from closing jet doors or being cleared for takeoff until after the checks are done.

Terrorists hijacked two American flights Sept. 11. One jet was crashed into the World Trade Center, the other into the Pentagon.

An American spokesman said the new procedure will make flights safer. But at least one FAA official is baffled as to how.

''It causes me grave concern that we would let someone gain access to the aircraft, who could have a criminal intent, prior to checking the FBI list of names,'' Gary Mohr, an FAA security official, wrote in an internal e-mail circulated Monday morning. ''The fact that the door remains open (while the check takes place) causes no comfort. It would not take much to commandeer the plane and close the door.

''Aircraft can be moved away from the jetways without their removal,'' Mohr wrote. ''I believe this conflicts with any good sense of security and only provides a convenience to the air carrier.''

American spokesman John Hotard said Wednesday that the airline requested the procedure because of security concerns, not as a means to speed boarding. The airline will still ''deny transportation'' to those on the watch list, whether aboard or not, he said.

''This is not a convenience issue,'' Hotard said. ''We think ours is a much better security procedure'' than what other airlines are doing. Hotard wouldn't explain why the procedure was better. He said simply, ''There are reasons.''

Others aren't so sure.

''It's ludicrous. To me, it makes no sense at all,'' said Steve Luckey, a security official for the Air Line Pilots Association. ''The only defense you have (for terrorists) is to deny them access. Are you going to let the fox in the henhouse and then try to figure out whether he eats chickens or not?''

Ross Hamory, the FAA's director of security operations, declined to discuss the security directive Wednesday. Talking about it, he said, is ''not in the interest of protecting the American public.''

''The procedures we approved and put in place address what needs to be done,'' he said.

Mohr, the FAA's acting division manager for Southwest region security, also would not discuss the directive Wednesday. But he said he heard it may be changed Friday.

Whatever the boarding procedure, Hotard said, American is ''not going to let the plane off the ground with the bad guys on.''

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