On Friday night a Horizon Air (Alaska Airlines commuter subsidiary) was stolen from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. While details remain incomplete, I imagined the investigation that would follow such an event, here are my thoughts of what has taken place.
The Situation Room
Once the carrier learned of the incident, I am certain a Situation Room was set up at headquarters while an investigation unfolded. A team of employees would start to collect facts and map the events to build the picture and understand how and what took place. I picture a group of 20 staff from various parts of the organization and likely assistance from their parent company as well. As they start to fill in some of the blanks, I would imagine that law enforcement, the NTSB, and the manufacturer (Bombardier) would join the room and add from their findings.
Re-creating The Events
While mapping the aircraft’s route should be easy based on radar (it flew for almost an hour and the mechanic was in contact with air traffic control) more info is needed. The question I ask (and the team will have access to) is what his route to the runway looked like. Sea-Tac is a busy international airport and I would have to imagine that taxiways would have been filled with other jets making their way to and from runways. Was the aircraft following behind them waiting for its turn to take off but failing to communicate such? Did the aircraft taxi and turn on to the runway short of the end (midfield) when it saw an opening?
Backing up from the time of take-off, I would think that the team would begin analyzing surveillance video of the airport. They would back up to the point where he began his taxi and see him starting the aircraft from inside the plane. I would suspect that they would then trace his movements before he entered the aircraft for abnormal activity and then inside various entry points and security checks as he entered the airport. I would suspect that the team would also review footage of the employee as he had entered the building and interacted with others operating his job function in the days preceding the theft.
The team would begin to investigate their employee, looking for social media posts that may have indicated his intentions. Interviews with family and friends to learn whether anyone might have been able to pinpoint a possibility that the employee was having trouble or seemed erratic would factor into their investigation.
Safety Protocol Changes
Once they had established the chain of events, I would assume they would start to analyze their safety protocol failures. At what point could anyone have stopped the event from taking place? Once the aircraft began moving, it may have gone undetected by ground staff for some time but by the point it reached the runway or anywhere close, it would have caught plenty of attention I would imagine. Could a ground vehicle (car, truck, bus) have stopped the aircraft by parking in front of the aircraft? Homeland security would have rathered the plane never leaves the ground even if that meant that a vehicle would have to ram into the plane with a police car to stop its process. But I would have to believe that new responses will be put in place, especially since another aircraft had recently been involved in another theft attempt, while far less well thought out and capable of piloting.
What response should the Air Force had taken assuming he did not crash on Ketron Island. While it may sound harsh, I would have had no problem with the F-15s that trailed the aircraft shooting the plane down over a safe area, whether that is on the island or over water. The person was assumed suicidal and should he have chosen to put the plane down in a highly populated area or into a building the damage could have been far worse. If a person had nefarious intent, the damage could have been extensive whether the target was military or civilian. If this person had flown the aircraft into a crowded stadium instead of the island, one can only imagine how many might have been hurt or killed.
Here are the outcomes I perceive likely as a result of the investigation.
- Increased background checks for employees with access to airport facilities including mental health and social media.
- Additional surveillance and security measures inside the facility.
- A remote kill switch? (Something the manufacturer could offer)
- Keys will have to be checked out and communications with management before aircraft movement.
- Countermeasures from airport security to stop the aircraft from ever departing in the future.
- Clear protocol for when and where to disable an aircraft.
I imagine that there will be a serious crackdown on security protocols for those in the airport that are not passengers. I think that there will be a group within Homeland Security and the Department of Defense that examine safety protocols from the carriers and from airports that led to this and the attempted theft of an American Airlines Envoy aircraft a few weeks ago.
What do you think is going on within the investigation? Do you think that the safety protocol changes I outlined will be enough? Is there something I missed?