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Oct 19, 2011

The 'hero killers' on domestic jets are gone

It is clear to at least some flight attendants that Senator George Brandis didn't realise that his actions in publicising the elimination of most armed sky marshals from Australian flig


It is clear to at least some flight attendants that Senator George Brandis didn’t realise that his actions in publicising the elimination of most armed sky marshals from Australian flights some months ago concerns decisions that have made flying safer.

In exposing the sky marshal reductions Brandis has argued that they compromised safety.

To the contrary, it means that people who will slaughter anything that comes between them and a weapon carrying terrorist in a jet have been removed from the picture, with positive safety outcomes.

Crikey carried a tip off about this move earlier this year, and three years ago published this story on earlier reductions in the program.

What we reported then is valid today:

The reported scaling back of sky marshals on international flights can’t come soon enough for some flight attendants.

They know when the armed marshals are on board and where they are seated. And they know when they go through the charade of checking their boarding passes that they are greeting the man or woman who may be their executioner.

They are meeting the people trained to shoot straight through any threat to the security of a flight, even though the pilots are sealed behind reinforced doors no hijacker has any chance of breaching.

Sky marshals are a part of the theatre of absurdity and dishonesty that clogs air transport with ineffectual but feel good rituals concerning identity, liquids and gels, traces of explosives on shoes (which can mean chemical traces from copying machines or farm fertilisers) and similar.

When a religious nutter tried to hijack a Qantaslink flight between Melbourne and Launceston on 28 May, 2003, by attacking a flight attendant with sharpened wooden stakes concealed in his clothes, passengers leaped from their seats to help the other flight attendant subdue him.

The plane was back on the ground in Melbourne, surrounded by police, within minutes of the attack. Had there been two sky marshals on board, it would not have made it back to the airport any sooner, but there could have been a pile of corpses on the floor, including the two flight attendants.

Sky marshals do not conduct judicial inquiries into who is a civilian hero, and who is a villain. They don’t ask hijackers holding a flight attendant to stand aside on so they can shoot them. They shoot the threat to oblivion in a split second.

Another well videoed incident was the attempted assassination of the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, in September 2002. The first person to die was the young boy who spotted the would be killer and tackled him to the ground as he approached the president’s car.

He was between the guard and the president. He was part of the commotion. He was dead in an instant. But he was also a hero.

Sky marshals are a useless, dishonest folly in the view of some people in the airline business, and their being wound down if not abolished would be another sign that common sense is coming back into the security and risk assessment equations.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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