Five years after September 11, 2001, anybody can fly a plane in New York air space. Anybody can walk onto a small airport, anybody can get access to a plane, anybody can take over control of a plane, anybody can fly a plane into a building in any city in the United States:
The small plane that carried Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle to his death flew one of the city's most popular routes for sightseeing pilots -- a largely unmonitored corridor that some lawmakers have tried to close for years because of safety and security concerns.
Many of those officials expressed shock Thursday that small aircraft are still allowed to fly so close to the Manhattan skyline in a post-Sept. 11 era.
"I think everyone is scratching their head, wondering how it is possible that an aircraft can be buzzing around Manhattan," said U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner, who has been lobbying for rule changes since 2004. "It's virtually the wild west. There is no regulation at all, other than 'don't run into anything.'"
Much of the airspace over two of the main rivers that encircle Manhattan is unrestricted for small aircraft flying under 1,100 feet.
Planes and helicopters soaring beneath that ceiling aren't required to file a flight plan or check in with air-traffic controllers, as long as they don't stray from the sky over the Hudson and East Rivers.
Once they're up there, who is going to stop them?
New York pilots said the path taken by Lidle's Cirrus SR20 on Wednesday is one of the most exhilarating: The plane looped around the Statue of Liberty, then followed the East River over the Brooklyn Bridge and past the United Nations.
General aviation aircraft are allowed to go about as far north as Manhattan's 96th Street. There, they must either execute a U-turn to avoid the restricted airspace around LaGuardia Airport, or get permission from air-traffic control to climb higher and continue north, or turn west over Central Park.
Lidle's plane collided with an apartment tower just a short distance from that turnaround point.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Thursday that authorities were investigating the possibility that the pilot was attempting to make that turn when the accident occurred.
Flight instructor Stanley Ferber, of Brooklyn, said that while the airspace is bustling with "a myriad of helicopters and planes," below 1,100 feet, and big commercial jets above, there is much more room than people on the ground realize.
"As a pilot, you always have to be on your toes, but it is not a tight situation," he said. "In all the time of my flying over New York, I've never had anything like a close call."
Still, he added, it isn't a place to let your concentration wander _ especially in the narrower corridor over the East River.
There, the water narrows in many spots to less than a half-mile wide, with towering skyscrapers to the West and LaGuardia's airspace to the East.
Ferber, 66, said that for reasons of personal comfort he prefers to fly in the loftier territory overseen by air traffic control, where he can take advantage of having those extra sets of eyes monitoring his position.
Jim Carroll, president of the Paramus Flying Club in New Jersey, said he also makes trips low over the East River more rarely, because of its "uncomfortably close" proximity to the big Queens airport.
But he too said the airspace seems safe and open from the sky.
"It's not unsafely tight," he said. "There is a sense of a lot of space and a lot of room."
Unnerved residents of the apartment building struck by Lidle's plane also complained about the proximity of aircraft to tall city buildings. All flights over New York were grounded after Sept. 11, but were lifted several months later.
"I feel like I can see the pilot at times, it's that close," said Lillian Snower Beacham, who lives on the 36th floor of the tower.
Federal aviation accident records list relatively few general aviation accidents near Manhattan, considering the large numbers of craft flying.
Two helicopters rolled into the East River last year immediately after takeoff, causing injuries, but no deaths. There were fatal helicopter crashes in 1997 and 1990. Passengers escaped unhurt when a Cessna dove into the Hudson in 1988. Four people died when a seaplane and police helicopter collided over the East River in 1983.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a recreational pilot with decades of experience, said he believes the skies are safe under the current rules.
"We have very few accidents for an awful lot of traffic," he said. "Every time you have an automobile accident, you're not going to go and close the streets or prohibit people from driving."
This one comment should be enough to end any higher political aspirations that Bloomberg may have.
Nobody in this article spoke about terrorist acts? Only "accidents." This sure sounds like pre-9/11 talk to me. What about the pilot for whom the only "space" that interests them is the space stuffed with nice, big, fat heavily populated buildings?
There is no politician in office in the U.S. today who will act to protect citizens from terrorist attacks over the demands (desires) of those in business. What drives our plans for homeland security is a cost-benefit analysis. Commerce is the American politicians' focus at every level of government. When the choice in capitalist America is between preventing a terrorist attack (the most people ever killed in the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. has been 3000) and the money spent and lost to prevent those deaths is incalcuble, 3000 dead becomes a relative number in a nation of 300 million.
On September 11, 2001, while the families and friends of some 3000 lost someone close to them, they were also about to gain insight into the truth of America that is known to only a relative few. They were about to learn a fact that most Americans are still unaware of, about our government and the people running it, but a fact that those of us who have lost family and other loved ones to acts of terror before September 11th learned that hard way: Terrorism won't be stopped because it doesn't pay.
More tragic still is that we also know nothing is going to change that fact until many more Americans have been touched personally by terrorism, lost loved ones through a terrorist act.
So, just like after 9/11/01 when flights were temporarily suspended, air flight over New York (including vanity flights, for dates or personal pleasure, small planes originating from private airports anywhere) will continue:
Carroll's sightseeing trips over the Hudson take him from the George Washington Bridge to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge near the mouth of the bay, and include spectacular views of the city impossible to achieve from the ground.
It is also tremendously beautiful.
"I think it is a celebration of the right to be an American," he said. "To take it away would be tremendously disappointing."
Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, the U.S. is no safer today than it was on 9/10/01. Nothing has changed, despite the rhetorical claims of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and every other charlatan in the Republican party: The only reason there hasn't been another terrorist attack on American soil is plain old dumb luck.
If you still don't believe it, look what else happened today - Bush signed the SAFE Port Act that aims to prevent terrorists from smuggling a nuclear bomb or other weapons in the 11 million cargo containers entering the country each year from overseas:
"Our seaports are a gateway to commerce, a source of opportunity, and a provider of jobs," Bush said. "Our ports could also be a target of a terrorist attack, and we're determined to protect them."
Bush said the new act requires radiation-detection technology at 22 of the nation's busiest ports by the end of next year. In addition, background checks and credentials will be required for workers at the nation's 361 ports.
Five years after September 11, 2001, and at the end of next year less than 6% of U.S. ports will be required to have technology to detect leaked nuclear material.
The bill is "a great step forward in enhancing port security," said Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents 75 shipping companies doing business on the West Coast.
He said port security must rely on new technology, and the law authorizes the development of high-tech inspection equipment so customs agents can check cargo containers without having to open them. Pilot programs would be established at three foreign ports to test the technology.
"You need to stop it from ever getting on a ship, from ever getting into the country," McKenna said.
The Port of Los Angeles already scans some containers for radiation and has a pilot program for worker identification and background checks, spokeswoman Theresa Adams Lopez said.
Coast Guard and other agents also board cruise ships and some cargo vessels for inspection before they arrive in port.
"Definitely it's something we're happy about," she said of the new law.
The adjoining ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the fifth busiest port complex in the world, handling more than 43 percent of the nation's cargo containers - about 14.3 million each year.
Arif Ghouse, security director for the Port of Seattle, said the port would be able to detect radiation leakage from any container, as required under the law, by December.
"We've been waiting for this for quite a while, so it's nice to see it's gone through," Ghouse said of the act.
The Port of Oakland plans to apply for the federal grant money to invest in new screening technology.
And that's just one of the many outs.
It's not any of the hundreds of billions of tax-payer dollars that Bush has either spent or borrowed, that Americans thought was going to secure the nation against terror attacks. The bill authorizes distribution of half of the money that's been spent since 9/11/01 on port security, to fund upgrades. If there is no grant money a port isn't required to install this "new technology."
And like all other legislation that Bush has signed in the last six years, it's politically driven. It's just a piece of paper, signed right before an election, like past legislation that he ignores, fails to fund, or refuses to implement.
This bill came out of the fiasco that was the Dubai Ports International sale, which still isn't a dead deal. The emphasis and focus of the legislation, what needs "beefing up" in our ports is (according to the Republican mind), Americans' xenophobia in this post-9/11 world: How do we keep Americans terrified and terrorized while selling them on foreign ownership of American property and businesses? How do we placate Americans' fears about terrorism while keeping them buying, keeping commerce going?
According to a Rand Corp. study released in August, a nuclear explosion at the Port of Long Beach could kill 60,000 people immediately, expose 150,000 more to hazardous radiation and cause 10 times more economic loss than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
That's the real driving force behind all of this sudden action.
Meanwhile, there were hints of the economic damage an attack could cause in the 2002 dockworker lockout, Lopez said.
The 10-day action shut down 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle and cost the nation's fragile economy up to $2 billion a day.
Yeah. Now the part of the legislation that relates to "worker identification and background checks" will be implemented post haste, no doubt utilizing one of the several secret and illegal NSA domestic surveillance programs to identify 'trouble-makers'. Watch and see how it all comes together, these domestic surveillance programs and the Patriot Act, to destroy the Longshoremen's unions.
Congress approved the bill two weeks ago before lawmakers left to campaign for the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which national security, the war in Iraq and terrorism are major issues. Democrats favored the bill, but said it failed to address rail and mass transit, other areas considered highly vulnerable to terrorists.
The bill fails to address chemical plant and nuclear power plant security, or any power plant security for that matter. Or the security of dams, or water or food supplies. Or mass transportation, such as railways, subways, bridges, highways, roads.
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