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Air Safety Panel Calls For Traffic Control Changes


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 12) -- President Bill Clinton is hailing a report from a White House commission on aviation safety that recommends major changes in the air traffic control system and expanded inspections of aging aircraft.

"This report lays out a clear plan of action to ensure that America's airways and airplanes will remain the safest and... our passengers the most secure in the world well into the next century," Clinton said.

The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, chaired by Vice President Al Gore, presented its recommendations to Clinton today.

The commission set a goal of reducing aircraft accident rates by more than 80 percent by 2005. Clinton announced that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has agreed to set aside a half-billion dollars over the next five years to work on that goal.

The report calls for accelerating the use of the global positioning satellite system (GPS) in U.S. airspace and ultimately linking GPS and the air traffic control system to provide better and safer separation for planes flying in the United States.

clinton gore

Making such a change in the architecture of the national airspace system would be a major effort and would require substantial changes in the way the current system is run.

The commission also recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) adopt new protocols for dealing with the safety of aging aircraft. The hulls of older aircraft now require extensive inspections if they are to continue in service. The new protocols would expand those inspections to other areas such as wiring and electronics.

The panel also made a number of other recommendations concerning airport security that are either under study or are being put in place, such as:

  • Stepped-up security at airports.
  • Tougher security checks for airline and airport employees.
  • Matching bags with passengers.
  • Profiling of passengers to eliminate possible terrorist threats.
  • Electronic bomb detection devices at major airports.

Clinton clearly had gotten a glimpse of the report beforehand, and had incorporated some of it into his budget. "The balanced budget I submitted to Congress last week contains $100 million for future aviation security improvements, as the commission recommends," Clinton said. "I urge the Congress to provide this critical funding. This unprecedented federal commitment reflects our resolve to do everything we can to protect our people and to prevent terrorism."

The aviation panel was convened in the wake of the crash of TWA Flight 800 but lost some of its momentum as the theory the plane was downed by a terrorist act began to fade.

One of the commission's recommendations is to move forward in studies of profiling passengers to fight terrorism.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and members of the Arab-American community spoke at a public hearing Tuesday night, calling on the commission to ensure in its recommendations that profiling does not violate individual rights.

Specific concern was expressed that abuses have already taken place where individuals were searched simply because of their name and their appearance.

CNN's Carl Rochelle contributed to this report.

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