MIAMI – On September 11, 2001, at 08:46 EDT, the world we knew, the way we worked and traveled, and the world economy ceased to exists and were replaced by new versions that would stem from terror, horror, and fear.

It all started just before 09:00 hours of a fine summer’s day when an unimaginable view above surprised people walking the streets of New York City to get to work: a large aircraft overflying Manhattan at low altitude in the direction of the southern tip and toward the World Trade Center and its 400mt-high twin towers.

September 11, 08:46, the Flights and Aircraft

The aircraft, a Boeing 767 belonging to American Airlines (AA), flying from Boston-Logan (BOS) to Los Angeles (LAX) as AA11 crashes into the north tower at 08:46. The flight carried 81 passengers and 11 crew and marks the beginning of horror and deaths with the south tower being hit by a second aircraft, a Boeing 767 operating flight UA175 from BOS to LAX, and carrying 56 passengers and nine crew.

The nightmare begins here but does not end as two other flights are hijacked: AA77, a Boeing 757 carrying 58 and six crew and flying from Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) to LAX, and United Airlines (UA) airplane, flight. UA93 and also a Boeing 757 operating from Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO) with 37 passengers and seven crew on board. AA77 is crashed against the western wall of the Pentagon.

Flight UA93 is ultimately taken over by courageous passengers and the aircraft crashes southeast of Pittsburg during a fight for the control of the aircraft. Without this act of courage, the aircraft would have been directed against the Capitol with the Congress in session. With the collapse of both towers, the total death toll of 2,996 people among employees working in the towers and at the Pentagon, passengers, crew, office goers, and rescuers. And the 19 hijackers.

There is simply no bigger loss to the world than those lives that we now forever remember 20 years on.

American Airlines 9/11 Memorial Garden at their Training Center. A tree was planted for each lost crew member. Photo: Airways

And so, the World Changed

The world changed after 9/11. It changed profoundly in the way people used to live, trade, and travel. In this last aspect, air travel was directly hit an unimaginable economic blow that lasted a long, very long time bringing havoc in the industry, profoundly changing the security aspect of flying, and imposing the strict checks that are still enforced today.

An intelligence and security network among countries was established which led to extreme measures including removing shoes and belts at security checkpoints, having personal computers and cameras checked separately, liquid and gels banned from carry-on bags. The measures brought in additional costs for airports and, in fine, for airlines and their customers.

Economically speaking, the impact of 9/11 on the air travel industry was extremely severe, particularly hitting US airlines, continued during the Gulf war, and finally linked up with the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 with only a few years of recovery between the two events.

As a direct consequence of the September 11 attacks, all aviation insurers issued a seven-day cancellation notice on September 17 de facto stopping all third-party war risk insurance, an unprecedented move that put at risk the entire air transport industry. Nations stepped in to help airlines. In particular, the FAA issued insurance policies for premium third-party war risk liability for US airlines.

Insurers finally came back on the market but with premiums considerably higher contributing to the financial despair affecting the industry which had to support an additional US$2bn in costs for far more limited coverage

IATA Director General, Willie Walsh, deems as an important lesson “to move beyond the one-size-fits-all rules-based model that still, with some notable exception such as the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) pre-check, governs passenger security screening.”

Willie Walsh also pointed out that the low-security risk presented by the majority of passengers may allow improved efficiency by “establishing trust with a known community of travelers” not requiring a high level of security checks.

United Airlines Boeing 757 N74856. Photo: Sean Brink/Airways

Air Travel Operational & Financial Impacts

The operational impacts of 9/11 on the US airline industry include:

  • Airspace Closed: On September 10, 2001, US airports handled 38,047 flights. On September 12, they
    handled 252 commercial flights. One week later (September 18) there were 34,743 flights.
  • US passenger airline revenues declined from US$ in 2000 to US$ in 2001. Revenues
    did not exceed 2000 figures until 2004 (US$106.7bn).
  • US passenger airlines posted a net loss of $8.0 billion in 2001 after earning US$2.2bn in 2000. Losses
    continued through 2005. Total net losses 2001-2005 were US$60.6bn, however, this included Chapter
    11 bankruptcy-related adjustments. At the operating level, (EBIT) losses over the period totaled US$28.3bn.
  • US passenger traffic, measured by revenue passenger miles or RPMs, fell 5.9% in 2001 compared to
    2000 and a further 1.4% in 2002 compared to 2001. Traffic did not exceed 2000 levels until 2004.
  • US passenger airline employment peaked in 2000 at 520,000 and reached a low of 378,600 in 2010
    before rising to a post 9.11 peak of 448,400 in 2019. Owing to pandemic impacts, it currently stands at
Photo: Helen Palma/Airways

Global Impact on Aviation

  • Globally, airline operating revenues declined from US$328.5bn in 2000 to US$307.5bn in 2001 and
    US$306bn in 2002. Revenues did not exceed 2000 levels until 2004 (US$378.8bn).
  • Globally, airlines lost US$13bn in 2001 after earning US$3.7bn in 2000. Losses continued through 2005. Total net losses 2001- 2005 were US$41.5bn. At the operating level (EBIT) losses for the 2001-2003 period totaled US$18.1bn.
  • Global passenger traffic (RPKs) declined 2.9% in 2001 compared to 2000. Traffic began growing again
    in 2002 but did not exceed 2000 levels until 2004.
Photo: Helen Palma/Airways

Significant Air Travel Security Changes since 9/11

  • Locked and armored Cockpit Doors: Following 9/11 regulators directed all airlines to retrofit their fleets
    with locked and fortified cockpit doors. In addition, all new aircraft were required to be delivered with
    locked and armored cockpit doors.
  • Restrictions were placed on the carriage of sharp objects in the cabin that had previously been allowed.
    Pen knives, box cutters, nail files, and other pointy items previously permissible were now banned and
    collected at checkpoints.
  • In the US, passenger screening was federalized, with airport screening provided by the newly-created
    Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
  • 100% explosive detection screening for checked bags introduced in the US and elsewhere and
    applicable by ICAO Chicago Convention, Annex 17 in 2006. Additionally, Annex 17 since 2018, has
    applicable explosive detection requirements for passengers and cabin baggage as well.
  • As a result of the December 2001 “shoe-bomber plot” shoes were required to be removed and screened
    separately. Similar measures were introduced in many countries, but the rules were not harmonized.
    Some states banned cigarette lighters and matches in aircraft cabins.
  • As a result of the discovery of the August 2006 Transatlantic Bomb Plot, passengers were first banned
    from carrying gels and liquids in their cabin baggage. Subsequently, rules were adopted to allow
    passengers to carry liquids and gels in a 100 ml (3.4 oz) container, and all liquids needed to fit into a
    transparent plastic bag (1 liter/1 quart size). All laptops and other electronic equipment had to be
    removed from bags and scanned separately. In addition, the UK imposed a restriction on one piece of
    hand luggage per person, which remained in place until January 2008.
  • The “Underwear Bomber” attempted to detonate an improvised explosive device concealed in his
    underwear in December 2009. This led to the widespread introduction of controversial “full-body scanners”
    at airport security checkpoints.
  • In November 2010 an attempt to ship explosives concealed in printer cartridges aboard two cargo
    aircraft was discovered. Air cargo shipments to the United States from Yemen were suspended
    indefinitely. Passengers were prohibited from having printer cartridges in carry-on baggage.
  • The TSA Precheck known traveler program was introduced in 2011 in the US.
  • In October 2015, the destruction of a Metrojet passenger flight en route from Sharm El Sheikh to St.
    Petersburg led to a new focus and international standards on insider threats.
  • In March 2017, responding to intelligence, the US banned electronic devices larger than a cell phone
    from the passenger cabins of US-bound commercial flights from ten airports in the Middle East and
    North Africa. In June, the US introduced an enhanced screening of electronic devices, more thorough
    passenger vetting, and new measures designed to mitigate the potential threat of insider attacks.
  • In July 2017, there was a hold baggage security plot to blow up a Middle East destined aircraft. The
    event spawned the evolution of chemical and powders-based cabin baggage checks that remains in place

Article source: IATA Fact Sheet, Il Sole 24 Ore, Personal memories

Featured image: American Airlines Boeing 767 N321AA – Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways