Shore Up Existing Security

Equipping all planes with anti-missile devices isn't best strategy

Opposing view: Billions are better spent removing missiles, addressing safety gaps.

Equipping all 6,800 U.S. commercial aircraft with still-unproven infrared jammers would take six to 10 years and cost as much as $20 billion. If we’re prepared to spend that much, there are better uses for the money: take the missiles away from terrorists and fix gaping holes in airport security.

One approach already being used is to offer bounties for turning in shoulder-fired missiles. If there are 100,000 such rogue missiles, paying $25,000 for each would cost $2.5 billion.

Beefing up counterterror intelligence and covert operations could absorb another $1.5 billion. So far, that’s $4 billion toward eliminating the threat of these missiles.

Even more needs to be spent strengthening the weak links at America’s commercial airports. Thousands of non-airline employees have access to “secure” areas, from which they could gain access to planes. Many of these people have not had 10-year FBI background checks, and very few have biometric ID cards to ensure that the person who has been cleared is actually the one carrying the card.

Airport perimeters are usually secured by nothing more than chain-link fencing. Some boaters recently came ashore at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and wandered the runways. This vulnerability has been ignored in the rush to pour billions into checked-baggage inspection.

And while checked bags are screened for explosives, carry-on bags are not; neither is the cargo that rides next to luggage on passenger planes. We haven’t begun to address these problems, even though a bomb is deadly whether it gets aboard via a checked bag, carry-on or cargo package.

If we put an average of $ 100 million each into our 50 largest airports to address these three problems ($5 billion) and $ 20 million apiece at 350 smaller airports ($7 billion), that would be $12 billion well spent, preventing explosives from getting onto planes.

And because better technology for defeating missile attacks on planes is worth pursuing, another $1 billion spent on research, development and testing would also be a good investment. That adds up to $17 billion. Rather than spending this sum installing unproven technology, we’d be better off spending it on taking out the missiles and closing gaps in airport security.

Robert W. Poole, Jr. directs the Transportation Studies Program at the Reason Foundation. He advised the White House Domestic Policy Council and several members of Congress on ways to improve airport security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.

Surface Transportation

In the field of surface transportation, Poole has advised the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office, and state DOTs in numerous states.

Poole's 1988 policy paper proposing privately financed toll lanes to relieve congestion directly inspired California's landmark private tollway law (AB 680), which authorized four pilot toll projects including the successful 91 Express Lanes in Orange County. More than 20 other states and the federal government have since enacted similar public-private partnership legislation. In 1993, Poole oversaw a study that coined the term HOT (high-occupancy toll) Lanes, a term which has become widely accepted since.

California Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Poole to the California's Commission on Transportation Investment and he also served on the Caltrans Privatization Advisory Steering Committee, where he helped oversee the implementation of AB 680.

From 2003 to 2005, he was a member of the Transportation Research Board's special committee on the long-term viability of the fuel tax for highway finance. In 2008 he served as a member of the Texas Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Roads, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2009, he was a member of an Expert Review Panel for Washington State DOT, advising on a $1.5 billion toll mega-project. In 2010, he was a member of the transportation transition team for Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott. He is a member of two TRB standing committees: Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes.


Poole is a member of the Government Accountability Office's National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel and he has testified before the House and Senate's aviation subcommittees on numerous occasions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Poole consulted the White House Domestic Policy Council and the leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

He has also advised the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, White House Office of Policy Development, National Performance Review, National Economic Council, and the National Civil Aviation Review Commission on aviation issues. Poole is a member of the Critical Infrastructure Council of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and of the Air Traffic Control Association.

Poole was among the first to propose the commercialization of the U.S. air traffic control system, and his work in this field has helped shape proposals for a U.S. air traffic control corporation. A version of his corporation concept was implemented in Canada in 1996 and was more recently endorsed by several former top FAA administrators.

Poole's studies also launched a national debate on airport privatization in the United States. He advised both the FAA and local officials during the 1989-90 controversy over the proposed privatization of Albany (NY) Airport. His policy research on this issue helped inspire Congress' 1996 enactment of the Airport Privatization Pilot Program and the privatization of Indianapolis' airport management under Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

General Background

Robert Poole co-founded the Reason Foundation with Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan in 1978, and served as its president and CEO from then until the end of 2000. He was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2000. Over the years, he has advised the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations on privatization and transportation policy.

Poole is credited as the first person to use the term "privatization" to refer to the contracting-out of public services and is the author of the first-ever book on privatization, Cutting Back City Hall, published by Universe Books in 1980. He is also editor of the books Instead of Regulation: Alternatives to Federal Regulatory Agencies (Lexington Books, 1981), Defending a Free Society (Lexington Books, 1984), and Unnatural Monopolies (Lexington Books, 1985). He also co-edited the book Free Minds & Free Markets: 25 Years of Reason (Pacific Research Institute, 1993).

Poole has written hundreds of articles, papers, and policy studies on privatization and transportation issues. His popular writings have appeared in national newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and numerous other publications. He has also been a guest on network television programs such as Good Morning America, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. Poole writes a monthly column on transportation issues for Public Works Financing.

Poole earned his B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and did graduate work in operations research at New York University.