What it takes to survive

After years of studying how to keep explosives off commercial aircraft, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has turned its attention to a scarier – but practical -- consideration:

How bad would it be if a bomb did go off on an airliner in flight?

At the behest of TSA, three U.S. national laboratories are studying the effects of explosives on commercial carriers' airframes.

TSA Chief Kip Hawley says bomb survivability tests on airframes could lead to checkpoint changes. (AW&ST Photo: John M. Doyle)

The test’s preliminary results are not expected until the fall. But the final analysis could someday help security officials determine if they are spending too much or too little on technology, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley says in the May 30 issue of Aviation DAILY (subscription required).

But Hawley says cost savings is not the driving force behind the research project. What TSA is trying to figure out, he says, is: “What does it actually take to blow up an aircraft? And that will tell us a lot about what kind of detector technology we need.”

The three labs -- Lawrence Livermore in California and Sandia and Los Alamos in New Mexico -- will largely use computer modeling to simulate pressurized airline cabins, rather than blowing up aircraft fuselages on the ground.

The three labs will do their analysis independently and then peer review each other, Hawley says. The information gathered will give the next administration “a very good handle on some of these issues with huge security and cost implications down the line,” Hawley says.

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