After a bomb went off in 1988 on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers onboard, the Federal Aviation Administration created standards that industry would have to meet if it chooses to deploy luggage containers capable of withstanding such a blast. During the 1990s, the FAA tested 10 hardened luggage containers made from a variety of materials, including reinforced aluminum, fiberglass, aramid fibers and polymers. Only one container--concocted from fiber-metal laminates developed originally by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands--passed the FAA's test and received certification. The material, called Glare (short for glass reinforced), consists of multiple aluminum layers interspersed with layers of fiberglass and adhesive bonding that are supple yet strong. When used in fabricating luggage containers, Glare can absorb bomb blasts without breaching. (One other container made of a different material passed the FAA test recently but has yet to be certified.)
To receive FAA certification for use in aircraft, hardened containers--loaded with luggage and placed in a plane's cargo bay during testing--must be able to withstand a blast "significantly more powerful than the Lockerbie bomb without damaging the aircraft's structure or impairing its flight-control system," says Howard Fleischer of the FAA's aviation security research department. During an explosion, Glare's multiple fiberglass and aluminium layers provide greater strength than aluminum alone.
This article was originally published with the title Lockerbie Insurance.