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Aviation Expert Highlights Security Challenges In Aftermath Of EgyptAir Crash

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're joined now by Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. Welcome to the program.

PETER GOELZ: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: In your assessment, how well-equipped is the Egyptian government to investigate this crash?

GOELZ: Well, I think they're capable of doing it. I think they have a clear understanding of how to do it. The question is whether they'll be able to overcome the political challenges of an investigation like this.

SHAPIRO: Describe the political challenges you're referring to.

GOELZ: Well, if this were an accident investigation purely, it would be governed by the rules of ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which tries to set standardized investigative rules across the globe. If it becomes a terrorism case, then all the bets are off, and Egypt is free to conduct the investigation any way they like because it's a matter of internal security.

SHAPIRO: Last fall we saw a plane crash just off the Sinai Peninsula after it took off from Egypt, and the Egyptians were reluctant to call the terrorism even as other countries did. What do you take from that experience that you think is relevant to what's happening today?

GOELZ: Well, I think it's pretty clear Egyptians were particularly concerned about the security at Sharm el-Sheikh, the airport that the plane took off from. They knew that if they acknowledged that a terrorist device, that a bomb got through their security and got on the plane that it would devastate their tourism industry. So they were very reluctant to admit out of the gate, even though there were a lot of facts on the ground, that this was a terrorist act.

SHAPIRO: And do you see a difference today?

GOELZ: Absolutely. The plane took off from Charles de Gaulle, and I think the Egyptians will be able to make the case that stopping terrorism - if this is deserving to be a terrorist act, they'll be able to make the case that stopping terrorism is not quite so easy and that the very developed Western countries have very much of a challenge on their hands as Egypt does.

SHAPIRO: Now, we understand that the airplane was in several different airports before it took off from Paris' Charles de Gaulle, and airplanes don't get thoroughly examined at every stop. Does that mean security is only as strong as the weakest airport security in that chain?

GOELZ: That is absolutely correct. I mean, if this plane stopped in Tunisia and in Eritrea, both countries that have challenges in terms of terrorism and security - how strong the security at those airports would be is really open to question.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that will lead to some kind of international program to get consistency across airports?

GOELZ: Well, the U.S. and other developed countries try to do that. They fund joint efforts. They try to raise best practices at the airports that their countries' planes fly into. But it is a real challenge when you were dealing with some of the airports in the Middle East, some of the African airports.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to talk about some of the specific circumstances of this crash. In contrast to the Sinai Peninsula incident in October which happened less than 30 minutes into the flight, this was very late in the flight path. Does that tell you anything?

GOELZ: Well, there are a lot of disturbing, unanswered questions about this event. One is that the plane apparently started to come apart at 37,000 feet - is also very disturbing. We're not sure why that could've occurred. If it was just a bomb with a timer, then the pilots probably - you know, why did they miss the callout? If it was something else going on - it's very perplexing at this point.

SHAPIRO: Peter Goelz is an aviation expert who used to be with the NTSB and investigated the EgyptAir crash in 1999 off Nantucket. Thank you for joining us.

GOELZ: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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