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Gov’t to Work On Anti-Missile Plans for Commercial Airplanes

By John Mintz
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Top federal officials, increasingly concerned that terrorists will attack U.S. commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles, are developing plans to thwart such strikes with measures that range from sophisticated anti-missile technology to simple changes in takeoff schedules.

An interagency task force that reports to the National Security Council is also coordinating emergency inspections of every large U.S. airport to determine their vulnerability to the small, portable missiles, senior government officials said. And it is planning a public education campaign designed to teach police departments and citizens who live and work near airports to identify the missiles if they see someone assembling one.

While acknowledging their alarm at the danger of portable missiles being fired at the approximately 6,700 commercial aircraft operating in the United States, administration officials stressed Tuesday that the highest echelons of the U.S. government are focused on the threat and are determined to maximize the traveling public’s safety.

“We have drawn together the best thinkers in government and in the contracting world” to address the issue in recent months, said one senior government official. “We now grasp the threat, and we grasp our options.”

U.S. air carriers, already staggered by financial losses caused in part by the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, are arguing that the government should bear the cost of any required high-tech equipment, which could carry billion-dollar price tags.

“Protecting our citizens and defending our nation against threats of this type is the responsibility of our federal government,” said Michael Wascom, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. carriers. “As with any aspect of providing for our national defense, this subject is best addressed by our government.”