Could terrorism destroy commercial air travel?

So far, a civilian airliner has never been shot down by a shoulder-launched S.A.M. But is it only a matter of time? And if terrorists can obtain a regular supply of such missiles, is there anything that can be done about it? If even one airplane a month was lost for 48 months in a row, I suspect the air travel industry would collapse.

You have a couple of big IFs here which still need to be resolved before you see airliners being popped out of the sky.

  1. A steady supply of misiles.

  2. You assume this has not been considered by the current
    security measures which have gone into effect.

I’m sure your postulation has already been considered by the dept of homeland security and associated agencies and they have addressed this issue.

Assuming you achieved #1 then you would need to position yourself so you could catch an airliner in the approach or departure phase because once at altitude the shoulder launch missile’s capability is approximately nil. I think the security agencies realize this and have taken measures to watch for activity in the threat zones of these type missiles.

It may be more of an issue off shore (outside the US) but I believe most countries now are aware of the threat that this weapon system poses and have taken similar actions.

I am not an expert, but I think if you can bring a stinger missile into Washington D.C. then you shoot done any airliner approaching or taking off from R.Reagan airport.

Just put the thing on your bicycle, camouflage it as didgeridoo, stroll around at the potomac and that’s it.

Or eat an icecream in Georgetown, park near the harbor and shoot from there. Nobody will ask you.

I can’t see how can this be prevented short of shutting down the airport.

Commercial air travel may have more to fear from the loss of the business market due to the growth of e-mail and videoconferencing, and from the loss of the vacation market due to the worldwide economic “slowdown”. Fear plays a role in those too, sure, but the airlines were in deepening trouble well before 9/11.

Using it is the easy part, getting your hands on it is the not-so-easy part. I would bet one thing: if you go around looking for a SAM missile in the dark underground world and you find someone who says he is willing to sell you one. . . you can be pretty sure you are talking to the FBI or CIA guy who will testify in the court of law which will send you off to jail for a long time. In the alternative, you may be talking to the FBI or CIA guy who will send you off to Guantanamo or some other unpleasant place without such niceties and formalities. It’s kind of a shady market with all sorts of unpleasant characters.

sailor, how about buying them abroad and bringing them in? Given the fact, that only a small percentage of containers are checked at the harbors, sending a couple of stingers should statistically work to have a least one.

Of course, the ones which are found will send the guys trying to get them to Guantanamo. But there is not shortage of volunteers.

Another option would be to bring them in on a private sailboat à la Bruce Willis/Chakal. Given your nick you should know more about this possibility :slight_smile:

Only one thing can destroy commercial air travel - if people no longer wish to travel quickly over long distances - even if they have to pay more to cover the cost of security upgrades to protect against missiles. Since many people will still wish to travel long distances at high speed, it is unlikely that terrorism will destroy commercial air travel.

Terrorism may destroy some of the current airlines, which are in a financially weak position and unlikely to be able to afford security upgrades that increased terrorism may make necessary. But that is not the same as destroying commercial air travel.


That’s a lot of missiles, especially considering that it would probably take several missiles fired for each successful hit. Apparently, such numbers simply aren’t available without the cooperation of a government; leaving that government, if found out, open to retaliatory attack. Besides, one could expect that after only two or three SAM attacks over a relatively short period, additonal security measures would quickly be implemented in the approach-departure zones of airports, and/or commercial aircraft would be fitted with flare/chaff dispensers and other countermeasures, as is already being discussed.

As far as the air travel industry collapsing; sure, individual carriers may collapse, but there are too many people who need relatively swift transit from place to place for air travel to cease over something like SAM attacks.

I’d say, if only 2-3 planes are lost in 1 year, then the industry would collapse.

Gee, ya think??
And can you imagine being the president during those four years?

It might be more realistic to contemplate 1 or 2 (48 is kind of ridiculous) and then whether or not they were successful,
i.e., 2 direct hits vs 1 near miss.

Given that this is such a low probabilty event, it might take more than one strike to establish this form of attack as ‘repeatable’. IMO that would be the key to whether or not I felt riding on a commercial airplance was akin to a game of russian roulette.

Don’t get me wrong, shooting just one commercial airliner out of the sky certainly would have devastating effects but I’m not so those effects woulld be severe enough to crush an industry we so desparately depend on.

You think the CIA doesn’t know what’s going on abroad? The guy who would sell you a stinger can make more money and safer by turning you in. The CIA is everywhere. I am not saying it is impossible just that you have to have a good infrastructure. . . and that makes you vulnerable to being infiltrated and to being monitored. Not impossible but not easy.

The short answer is yes. The object of terrorism is the threat. If you look at the cruise ship industry there have been quite a few mass illnesses. People don’t have to die to kill off an industry.