Foreign Airport Repair Shops Present Security Risks

By Matthew Harwood

A few days ago, USA Today highlighted another possible threat to aviation security: terrorists stashing bombs in airplane cavities during the aircraft's stay in an overseas repair shop.

The article relayed the fears of Douglas Laird, former head of security for Northwest Airlines.

When he was head of security at Northwest Airlines in the 1990s, Douglas Laird worried about aviation workers smuggling drugs into the USA by stashing them inside airplane doors, behind wall panels and underneath bathroom sinks.

The contraband was typically planted while an airplane was in an overseas repair shop for overnight or long-term work, Laird said.

Now as an aviation-security consultant, Laird has a bigger fear: that a terrorist will enter an overseas repair shop, plant a bomb in an airplane cavity and use a cellphone to trigger it.

The Inspector General of the Transportation Department, Calvin Scovel, counts that there are nearly 700 overseas repair shops licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) says workers at these shops undergo inadequate background screening, if any at all.

But Marshall Filler—managing director of the trade group,  Aeronautical Repair Station Association, which represents U.S. and overseas repair shops—says the sudden concern has more to do with politics than security. He argues the push for more oversight of foreign repairs shops comes from unions angry that their members have lost jobs as the airlines move their repair shops overseas to cut costs. 

Nevertheless, Congress sees foreign airport repairs shops as a security risk, according to another story by USA Today.

On Tuesday, Kip Hawley, the assistant secretary of TSA, faced down congressional criticism for not finalizing rules on security for foreign repair shops.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told Hawley that neglecting security for repair shops "is a disaster waiting to happen." She criticized the TSA for missing an August 2004 deadline set by Congress to write the security rules and a February 2006 deadline to inspect the 700 overseas repair shops that work on U.S. airplanes.

According to USA Today, Hawley did not explain why congressional deadlines were missed or say when the rules will be finalized.


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