Again? Florida airport stops theft of airline jet

A month ago, we wondered just how easy it was to steal a commercial airliner. Today, the answer seems to be — easier than you think, but perhaps not quite as easy as Nishal Sankat thought. Police arrested the 22-year-old Florida student after his plan to steal an American Airlines jet nearly succeeded.

The question is what he had in mind:

Authorities say the student pilot drove to the curb outside the airport around 2 a.m. and left his car running. He then hopped a barbed-wire fence and boarded an American Airlines plane sitting near a hanger.

“The individual was confronted as soon as he was on the aircraft. The employee who was on the aircraft took appropriate action and escorted him off the aircraft,” Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said.

But after he was dragged from the plane, he broke free, running back toward the jet. Soon after police took him into custody.

“Within two minutes of creating a problem, we stopped this guy from getting in the air,” Booker said.

At least from preliminary reports, this doesn’t look like a last-minute decision to go for a joyride, which is what happened last month in Seattle. The airport’s spokeswoman noted that “there obviously seemed to be some planning involved” in Sankat’s attempt to steal the plane. Also unlike the Seattle incident, which involved a baggage handler whose only training was video-game flight simulators, Sankat has undergone serious flight training. Sankat has a commercial pilot’s license, although he wasn’t rated for the plane he was about to steal.

That leaves the questions of motive and purpose very much up in the air, if readers will pardon the pun. A commercial pilot’s license is a valuable commodity. Why throw it away on a joyride? Why fight so hard to get back to the plane after getting caught the first time, when it could be perhaps brushed off as an episode of youthful curiosity? What exactly was Sankat planning to do?

Perhaps we’ll know more when Sankat goes to trial. In the meantime, the issue of aircraft security had better get addressed. Even if Sankat wasn’t planning anything malicious, we can bet that others who do plan malicious attacks are watching this vulnerability with great interest.