The wave of airliner hijackings to Cuba by Cubans who apparently came to the United States in the recent boatlift is bringing a quick response from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The agency announced Aug. 17 that armed federal marshals will ride on all airline flights leaving airports in Florida and other selected sites. The announcement came on the heels of what appeared to be yet another hijacking attempt, this time at Miami International Airport Sunday. The attempt was foiled.
The FAA also has ordered airport security personnel to use a profile of characteristics associated with hijackers to spot potential troublemakers before they board planes. It credits the profile with preventing a planned hijacking Aug. 16 at Tampa International Airport, although three hijackings elsewhere successfully diverted other fights to Cuba Aug. 16.
The agency has held initial meetings with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Department to determine the best ways of curtailing further hijackings. Asked if the US might offer free transportation to Cuba for any refugees wanting to return home, an FAA spokesman in Washington said this is one possibility.
Three planes were hijacked Aug. 16 and three others earlier in the week. All went to Cuba and all apparently were hijacked by Cubans -- apparently recent refugees to this country.
Four Cuban males carrying gasoline in plastic containers in their luggage were arrested in Tampa Aug. 16, while trying to board a plane. Airport security personnel discovered the gasoline when they opened the Cubans' bags for inspection. The threatened use of flammable liquid has been a common thread in most of the hijackings. Airport metal detectors cannot pick up such liquids or plastic containers.
"The new system we began putting in late Friday is beginning to pay off," FAA spokesman Dennis Feldman says. Those who fit the Friday is beginning to pay off ," FAA spokesman Dennis Feldman says. Those who fit the new profile "are personally searched," he said. "some things will get through, but we'll catch a lot of stuff."
"The FAA has been putting the heat on them," Mr. Feldman said, referring to FAA efforts over the weekend to get airport security systems to adopt the new profile rapidly. FAA personnel currently are traveling to airports "to try to accelerate the pace" at which the new system is adopted, he said.
The would-be hijackes at Tampa were "pretty obvious," says Paul MacAlester, director of information for the airport there.
The profile system, however, will be of help, he says. Profiles were used in the 1968-1972 period when there was an average of 27 hijackings a year in the US.