9/11 Changed Commercial Aviation

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  • The author with his corporate jet.The author with his corporate jet.

Yahoo! is asking Americans how September 11 changed them. Below is an account from a reader.

As a professional pilot, my life has been strongly impacted by the attacks on 9/11. On September 11, 2001, I was a flight instructor for a training academy in Florida. That morning, I was in the school’s computer lab when the Internet connection went down.

A short time later, a student said he had heard on the news that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. My first assumption was that it had been an accident involving a small general aviation aircraft. When reports of a second airplane hitting the WTC came in, I realized that it was a deliberate attack.

[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]

I went to the cafeteria, where a television was showing news coverage of the attacks in New York, as well as the attack on the Pentagon. There were rumors of more hijackings and another plane crash in Pennsylvania.

I distinctly remember that many of the school’s Saudi students were also in the cafeteria that day. While the Americans were somber and angry, the Saudis seemed almost enthusiastic. They were speaking excitedly in Arabic, which was causing the Americans in the crowd to become even more angry.

In the days that followed, the school was shut down for almost a week as the government kept private airplanes grounded. The local newspaper reported FBI raids on houses occupied by several of the Saudi students and their families. I saw Army soldiers with automatic weapons in the terminal the next time that I flew home.

The following year, I was hired by the airlines. By then, the armed guards were gone, replaced by TSA screeners. In our new-hire ground school, the subject of hijackings and security figured prominently. Where the old strategy was to comply with a hijacker’s demands, the new strategy was now to land the airplane before the Air Force shot us down. In an act of self-preservation and defiance of al-Qaida, I became one of the pilots trained to carry a pistol in the cockpit.

The years of upheaval in the airline industry that followed wreaked havoc on my career. The post-9/11 recession led to airline bankruptcies and mergers. I was furloughed from my first airline job before the company went out of business. I found a new job at a second airline, but industry stagnation and another impending bankruptcy made me rethink my career goals. I left the company to start flying corporate jets.

Ten years and two kids later, my career goal has changed from flying heavy airliners to maintaining financial stability and quality life. Part of this is due to growing more mature, but a large part is also due to the fact that the world has changed since 2001. Even as we are distracted by the failing economy, there are still legions of terrorists who want to inflict the maximum death and destruction possible upon us.

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