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Stolen Plane Incident Raises More Questions About Airport Security

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A sign outside the Centennial Airport (credit: CBS)

A sign outside the Centennial Airport (credit: CBS)

CONTEST

DENVER (CBS4) – Right now individual airports, not the federal government, are in charge of policing their perimeters. That it didn’t stop a Colorado pilot from getting onto the grounds of the St. George Municipal Airport in Utah.

Police say Brian Hedglin was on the run after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death in Colorado Springs on Friday. He was found dead on a plane Tuesday morning.

Many people in the aviation industry started considering the actual security of the facilities as a whole. At most airports the fence is merely a perimeter, but that’s exactly how Hedglin got access to the plane.

Investigators in St. George believe Hedglin got into a jet first by using a rug to cover razor wire on a fence. But airport managers at similarly small facilities say that doesn’t concern them.

“Incidents like this can happen at virtually any airport, but that’s why you have layered security,” said Robert Olislagers, Centennial Airport Executive Director.

Olislagers says the failed takeoff proves the system works.

Hedglin was able to get into the SkyWest plane’s cockpit and got the plane moving, but in doing so the experienced pilot damaged the plane’s wing, likely rendering it unsuitable to fly. Olislagers says the failure shows airport security is actually working.

“There’s always a way to get to the airplane, but there’s not a way to take it or complete a mission,” he said.

“To a trained terrorist most airports have the security of a laundromat,” aviation consultant Mike Boyd said.

Boyd says what happened shows a glaring hole in airport security.

“A real terrorist is not going through the screening to try to bust that. A real terrorist is going to do what this guy did — go through the back door,” Boyd said.

At Denver International Airport federal patrols monitor the inside of the airport perimeter. Private security and help from Denver police patrol the outside. That’s true at almost every airport in the country. Critics say federal patrols should focus on the fence and not the passengers.

“The problem is we don’t have airport security, we have airport screening. We have pointy object patrol,” Boyd said.

Airport managers sharply disagree. They say the industry needs to pay more attention to the licensing process for pilots. They say monitoring the mental health of pilots is critical for airline security.

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