The bomb scare that happened last week when terrorists packed printers with explosives and then tried to ship them via air freight from Yemen to Chicago, IL has set off a maelstrom of speculation over new security measures. Will full body scanners now be required at all airports? Front of the hand pat downs have begun at some locations already in the United States. All of this concern is now leading to some people speculating that the nascent airline Wi-Fi industry could come to a screeching halt before it even truly begins.

onboard Wi-FiThe epicenter for the fear of onboard Wi-Fi turning into a terrorist tool seems to be originating from an article from NewScientist. Speaking with Roland Alford, managing director of Alford Technologies, an explosives consultancy in Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK, it seems that he fears that the abundance of wireless communications on planes could step up the potential threat to passengers. He expects that the technology will definitely come under scrutiny as security is once again reviewed in the wake of this latest terrorist threat.

“[Onboard Wi-Fi] gives a bomber lots of options for contacting a device on an aircraft”, said Roland Alford. “If it were to be possible to transmit directly from the ground to a plane over the sea, that would be scary,” said company founder Sidney Alford. “Or if a passenger could use a cellphone to transmit to the hold of the aeroplane he is in, he could become a very effective suicide bomber.”

While all of this is interesting, and I’m sure every aspect of a plane will now be scrutinized, the fact remains that the Yemen bombs were on timers, nothing more.  Yes, they were cell phone times, but think about the space they take up compared to a clock.  This is the 21st century after all, I doubt anyone is going to have an actual ticking time bomb any more.

Wired took a look at if calling would be an issue:

“They couldn’t call,” says Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations now with Goodharbor Consulting. If the terrorists used a regular cellphone to call an airplane-borne bomb from a great distance, it probably wouldn’t be able to reach a tower that could bounce a signal to the phone — though it’s not impossible. More likely, Cressey speculates, the bombmakers would have timed the phone’s alarm to go off, triggering the bomb. “If they set the alarm, say, two days in advance, and they had confidence how it was shipped and packed to the U.S., then they’d have confidence about where it would be when [it went] boom,” he says.

True, some planes in Europe have added cell phone service, but the number is extremely low.  Calling from on the plane, or using the Wi-Fi as some speculate, would require a suicide bomber, and while those do exist, they are not exactly a dime-a-dozen.

Sadly, no matter how much we may enjoy Wi-Fi on planes, if the security folks decide to take it away, they’ll take it away.  No matter how much we argue it’s safe, they won’t listen to us.  I’m just waiting for the day they finally do make us completely strip at the security checkpoint.

What say you?  Is onboard Wi-Fi a threat?