Harsh sentences are still failing to deter hijackers

Tightened security measures and tougher prison sentences are not yet deterring airline hijackers. On Wednesday, one day after the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) announced that Cuba now is handing out harsh prison sentences to skyjackers, an Air Florida Flight bound from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa was hijacked to Havana.

It was the second hijacking to Havana in five days and the sixth hijacking to Cuba since May 1.

Cuba sent a letter to the US State Department June 15 and included a list of 44 hijackers who had landed in Cuba since the fall of 1980. The prison terms they had received in Cuba ranged up to 20 years in prison. The FAA released the list and the prison terms on Tuesday in Miami.

FAA security officials had flown to Miami Tuesday to put out the message to Cuban refugees in southern Florida that ''you're not going to see your family if you hijack an airplane to Cuba,'' said FAA spokesman Fred Farrar. Yesterday's hijacker, however, a white Anglo-Saxon, obviously didn't get the message, he says.

After the three hijackings to Havana in May (two from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and one from Miami), the FAA ''imposed additional security measures above and beyond the usual ones in southern Florida and San Juan,'' said Mr. Farrar. He would not elaborate.

The FAA also placed armed sky marshals back on certain commercial flights. (The federal marshals were introduced in the early '70s to prevent hijackings; since then they have been used whenever the FAA deemed it necessary.) They were removed in early June. But on June 14 an Eastern Airlines flight was hijacked to Havana from Miami. This, and a series of hijackings in May, prompted the FAA to put sky marshals back on flights. The agency also set mandatory security measures which, until last month, operated on a voluntary basis by the airlines.

Farrar says the FAA's head of security has also remained in Miami for meetings with airline and union officials to discuss other measures to prevent hijackings.

''On the whole we've done pretty well,'' Farrar says. In 1982, figures show that officials at airport security checkpoints - involving some 14,000 flights a day - confiscated 2,676 firearms and screened 1.7 million pieces of baggage plus 1.7 million pieces of carry-on luggage.

''Southern Florida remains the area of biggest concern. There are a large number of Cuban refugees there who didn't want to come in - and a lot who want to go back,'' he says.

He adds that a big problem in trying to profile potential hijackers is that Cuban authorities in Havana in the past have not told the FAA what weapons the hijackers used - weapon, bomb, or bluff. ''Now it appears the longest sentences are going to those who use gasoline,'' Farrar says.

Not much is heard of the hijackers after they get to Cuba, says Marty Martinez of the Airline Pilots' Association in Washington. Now he says there might be fewer hijackings (such as the last five involving Cuban refugees), as ''people realize that the hijackers are not let loose to roam free and return to their families.'' The harsh treatment they receive, he says, is not paradise.

Richard Lally, security director of the Air Transport Association of America, says another problem is publicity. (The ATA serves as a liaison between US airlines and the FAA.) He attributes the recent spate of hijackings, as with those by Cuban refugees during 1980-81, to the ''copycat'' syndrome.

''The more publicity, the more it seems people want to copy a technique or improve on it,'' Mr. Lally says. Two hijackings in early May were carried out on the same daily Capitol Airlines flight out of San Juan. Two others were Eastern jets bound for New York out of Miami.

Lally says the sky marshals' presence can act as a deterrent to potential hijackers, although marshals have never stopped a hijacking in progress. Their primary objective is to meet the threat on the ground - not in the air, he adds.

Security measures on the ground also include what officials call ''fourth generation'' or state-of-the-art metal detectors and cathode-ray tube X-ray machines. ''There is no better equipment on the market,'' says Lally. An airline security consultant agrees: ''The new generation of machines is excellent. I'm amazed at what they can do.''

A spokesman for Eastern Airlines in Miami says the agency is doing its best to prevent hijackings. Security is ''not limited to what they [the FAA] say. . . . We have ideas of our own [on how to deter hijackers].''

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