PHOENIX — Two men were arrested Christmas Day on opposite sides of the country after they breached perimeters at major airports, raising questions about security measures and whether more needs to be done to protect the nation’s transit hubs.
Robert Edward Bump, 49, scaled a roughly 9-foot, barbed wire topped fence at about 5:30 p.m. at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport before running out onto the tarmac and banging on the engine of an arriving Southwest Airlines plane.
He was arrested a few minutes later after another pilot spotted him and alerted the tower, Phoenix police spokesman Officer James Holmes said.
No injuries were reported, and Holmes said passengers were never in danger.
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In Phoenix, authorities immediately alerted the pilot of the Southwest Airlines plane, who shut down his engines as Bump approached, airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said.
Surveillance video shows the man being surrounded by airport security vehicles as he wandered away from the plane with his arms outstretched as if he were flying. A police officer arrived soon after and arrested him.
Bump showed signs of drug and alcohol impairment and was booked on a misdemeanor charge of entering a restricted area at the airport, said Holmes, adding that the man didn’t explain to authorities during questioning why he did it.
“He didn’t really say anything that made any sense,” Holmes said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Bump has an attorney. Police said he is homeless.
Security on the airport’s runway system has been breached in the past.
In November 2012, a woman rammed through a partially open gate at the Phoenix airport and drove on the runway with her infant son in the car.
Also, Sky Harbor spent $10 million to upgrade its perimeter security and access gates after a man being chased by police in 2005 crashed a stolen pickup through a fence and drove onto the runways, passing several jets on a taxiway.
Ostreicher said the airport does not have a perimeter intrusion detection system that includes motion sensors, but security personnel and dozens of cameras are in place around the facility.
“You are safe as a traveler here. A person who tries to do something like that, however, is in grave danger,” she said.
The Transportation Security Administration doesn’t require airports to maintain full-time surveillance of their perimeter fences, leaving airport security largely in the hands of individual facilities.
Jeff Price, an aviation professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and former assistant security director at Denver International Airport, said perimeter intrusion detection systems might be needed at the nation’s larger airports as an extra layer, given their prominence and volume of passengers.
Still, installing such a detection system is no guarantee that breaches will be avoided. “There’s no such thing as airtight security,” Price said.
Price said it looked as though people working in the airport tower did as they were supposed to by responding quickly. While perimeter fences are a key part of airport security, Price said an airport relies on many layers of security, including workers required to challenge and report people on air fields who don’t have security badges.