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Lafayette President Arthur J. Rothkopf ’55 talked about “Calming Your Fears: The Truth about Flying” in a packed Interfaith Chapel today for the ninth Campus Conversation. The series addresses issues related to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The next Campus Conversation will take place noon-1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, in Interfaith Chapel. Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology, and Jeffrey Goldstein, college physician, will speak on “Calming Your Fears: The Truth about Anthrax.” The speakers will discuss the risks of anthrax infection. Lunch will be provided free of charge.

Jacobi Cunningham ’03, multicultural affairs representative for Student Government, introduced Rothkopf, who served as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel for the Department of Transportation during the first Bush administration.

“There are no guarantees in life, and there certainly are no guarantees when it comes to travel,” said Rothkopf in his opening remarks. The most dangerous form of travel in the U.S. is via automobile, he noted, which claims approximately 45,000 lives annually – far more than air travel, even with the Sept. 11 attacks included.

“In my view, it was safe to fly before September 11 and it’s probably safer to fly now,” he said. As safety measures are implemented, air travel may become even safer in coming years. “It’s clear that September 11 was a wakeup call to the country to improve air safety, as well as safety in other areas of our country,” Rothkopf added.

Discussing the different approaches to airport and airline safety, Rothkopf noted that Israel has the most stringent travel requirements. Passengers there must arrive three hours ahead of their flights and face extensive questioning and searches by agents.

“It is a highly intrusive search that, I can assure you, the ACLU would not support,” said Rothkopf.

These measures are implemented against a background of war and have produced a perfect record in terms of never losing a plane to terrorism, he said. He also pointed out that the level of air traffic is low in that relatively small country.

In contrast, some countries have such lax safety controls that the Federal Aviation Administration puts them on its “watch list,” and in extreme cases, does not allow U.S. planes to travel there.

The U.S. seems to be headed to a middle ground between the two approaches as exemplified by the Europe system, said Rothkopf. European airports generally have more sophisticated equipment to check luggage and passengers.

“I don’t think we have a casual system,” noted Rothkopf. “I think we have a good one, but it’s very uneven.”

Security has not been tougher for airline travel because Americans do not like delays or searches, and prefer to show up 10 to 15 minutes before their flights leave, Rothkopf explained.

“We’ve had an extraordinary amount of air traffic and a public that doesn’t want to be bothered,” he said.

The idea that someone would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon was not contemplated by the government, according to Rothkopf. “Not only was there a failure of intelligence, there was a failure of imagination for what could occur,” he said.

Security relaxed in the 1990s because of the lack of incidents, said Rothkopf, and also because airlines did not want to incur the additional costs of safety measures. “Every time a new safety requirement was brought up by the FAA, unless it was very minor, the airlines would oppose it,” he said.

The airlines are happy to let the government take over airport security, said Rothkopf. A $2.50 surcharge (per way) on tickets will go toward security costs. A key issue is whether security officers will be government employees or employees of companies contracted by the government. Israel and Europe both outsource their airport security.

Rothkopf outlined a number of changes that will take place in U.S. air travel in the post-Sept. 11 era: air marshals present on many flights, more sophisticated equipment to check baggage, stricter inspection of checked luggage, greater restrictions on the type and amount of luggage that can be carried on board, modifications of the electronic ticketing system, restrictions on curbside check-ins, more frequent searches, some profiling of passengers, and greater clearance required between airliners and major areas such as Washington, D.C. and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Rothkopf also mentioned a proposal that he said raises serious questions concerning civil liberties: issuing identification cards that would contain a computer chip able to scan passengers’ irises or fingerprints. Like Social Security numbers, the cards could extend to many other uses that were not originally intended.

During a time for questions and comments from the audience, James P. Lusardi, professor emeritus of English, said he has assumed that federal employees would be more conscientious security officers than those hired by the private sector. Rothkopf noted that outsourcing has not had a fair test of its effectiveness because security has been run by the airlines, often on a minimum-wage basis. Government employees are difficult to fire for poor performance, he added.

Emmanuel Kirunda ’04 mentioned his experiences of speaking with pilots on eleven-hour trans-Atlantic flights and asked how U.S. pilots feel about bullet-proof doors. Rothkopf answered that pilots here have a large influence over safety decisions and have lobbied for reinforced cabin doors and the right for trained pilots to carry guns.

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