I meant to talk about this a while ago. American Airlines is experimenting with equipping its passenger jets with laser-based anti-missile systems. I’m guessing that Dr. Evil is the head of R&D. “All I want is PLANES with frickin’ LASER BEAMS attached to them! And a second packet of cookies. I’m the boss. Need the infooo. Really big shooo.” Dr. Evil sounds a little like Ed Sullivan, is what you should take away from this. Also, he is in charge of research at American Airlines.
If investing in laser-based security for airplanes strikes you as a waste of money, congratulations, you’re sane. According to this page, which I’m going to pretend is super accurate, there have been a total of four planes lost to “missile” attacks since the earliest incident in 1980. In the same period, ten planes were destroyed by on-board bombs and eight were hijacked (four of them on 9/11). Even if these figures are off, it’s clear that missile attacks on planes are extremely rare, compromising a minority of the already tiny fraction of air disasters instigated by terrorists. Of 417 serious airline accidents since 1980, apparently just four are due to missile. While I’ll grant you that stopping one percent of all air disasters would still save several hundred lives, this ignores the fact that the other 99% are almost invariably caused by a mechanical malfunction or navigational mishap. American Airlines’s money would be better spent on finding ways to improve equipment and prevent pilot and air controller fatigue.
Even though American Airlines says it is “not in favor” of adding anti-missile technology to planes, it’s still wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on research that might, maybe, one day, possibly, kind of, sort of, hopefully, theoretically save some lives. Isn’t every major airline in the country struggling to avoid bankruptcy? Wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere?
How did this plan come about, anyway?
Executive: We need something that says we care about our customers.
Researcher: But we don’t.
Executive: I know. I mean, the in-flight snacks alone…but I digress. How can we send a message that says, “Safety is our number one priority”?
Researcher: You could just get it over with and ban carry-on luggage. It’s inevitable anyway.
Executive: No it isn’t.
Researcher: Yes it is. You can’t have toothpaste in your bag now, for God’s sake.
Executive: Shut up. Stop saying true things. Give me something to work with here. Something futuristic.
Researcher: I don’t know. Cryostasis? Cold fusion engines? Full-body X-ray? Encase the plane in bubble wrap? What do you want from me, lasers?
Executive: Yes. That last thing. Lasers is what I want.
Researcher: But it’s economically unsound.
Executive: So is running a business where the key is making a sixty ton hunk of metal and diesel fuel defy gravity.