Could Poland Tragedy Happen Here? The plane crash that killed the president of Poland on Saturday also killed several other high-ranking government officials, including the deputy foreign minister and a dozen members of parliament, the chiefs of the army and the navy, and the head of the national bank. Michele Norris talks to John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute, and Jack Riepe of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, about whether a similar accident could happen to leaders of this country.

Could Poland Tragedy Happen Here?

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. Poland remains in mourning days after a plane crash took the lives of its president and more than 90 others. The country's acting president today began the arduous task of filling key government posts. He also vowed to review travel rules for top officials.

An astounding number of high-level political and military leaders were on board the plane when it crashed Saturday: Poland's deputy foreign minister, the head of its national security bureau, the head of all of Poland's armed forces, more than a dozen members of parliament and many more.

In the wake of the tragedy, we wondered what travel rules the U.S. government has in place. So we called on John Fortier. He's executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. JOHN FORTIER (Executive Director, Continuity of Government Commission, American Enterprise Institute): Well, there's a very strong prohibition about the president and vice president flying together. I wouldn't say that's absolutely universal. It's been reported that way.

At least I can think of some oddball episodes where President Clinton and Vice President Gore, before they were actually inaugurated but after the election, traveled together on a bus from Charlottesville and often traveled together on a plane.

But for the most part, we don't let the president and vice president travel on a plane together, but of course, they do appear at the same place in the same time, which could be the subject of a terrorist attack or some sort of natural accident.

After that, there is watchfulness. The Secret Service and others in the military are watching where the members of the line of succession are, the Cabinet members, the president, the vice president, the speaker and the president pro tempore. But there's no rule that a large number of them can't be together, and there are some times, the State of the union, for example, where almost all of them are together.

There is a tradition to send away a member of that line, usually a Cabinet secretary. After 9/11, it was upped a bit. Sometimes the vice president did not show up or two Cabinet members. And occasionally, members of Congress make some similar precautions, but it's a little more informal after that, and certainly there - in terms of Congress, there are numbers of members that travel together in relatively large groups to foreign delegations or to a state funeral or a funeral of one of their colleagues.

So it certainly is possible that you could have a large number of people on a plane, hopefully not all of the members of the line of succession.

NORRIS: That's John Fortier. He runs the Continuity of Government Commission at the American Enterprise Institute.

Unlike the federal government, many corporations do have guidelines, and in some cases strict rules, governing the number of top officials who can fly together. Jack Riepe is with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, a group that surveyed about 100 companies.

Mr. JACK RIEPE (Association of Corporate Travel Executives): Michele, 84 percent of our members do, in fact, enforce a policy that limits the number of people that can fly on a corporate jet or a commercial flight. The manner in which they limit the executive level is subject to corporate culture.

For example, 61 percent apply it to the executive level, which in fact would be the CEO, the CFO, directors, vice presidents. Twenty-eight percent include all employees, would be sales teams, design teams, anyone who would have proprietary information of a unique nature.

NORRIS: And what does that mean that no two people, no three people, no four people can be on the same flight?

Mr. RIEPE: At the highest levels of upper management, it's no two people. All right, as you go down the scale in terms of vice presidents and directors, it's either no four people or five people, and in some cases, it's no six. It depends again, it depends on your level of unique knowledge to the corporation.

NORRIS: Do these rules govern private planes, as well as commercial aircraft?

Mr. REIPE: Actually, some corporate travel policies are so stringent it covers private planes, corporate jets, commercial flights, limousines, commuter vans and even floors in hotels.

NORRIS: Floors in hotels, really?

Mr. REIPE: Yes, ma'am.

NORRIS: They cannot stay on the same floor at a hotel?

Mr. REIPE: That is correct. And a good example of why that should never be would be the Mumbai terrorist attacks of last year. You never want to concentrate your people in one location.

NORRIS: Plane crashes are relatively rare. When they do happen, they can be devastating, as we saw with that plane crash in Russia with all those Polish officials on board. But this does seem like extraordinary measures, given that these plane crashes really don't happen all that often.

Mr. REIPE: They only have to happen once to have a devastating effect on a company.

NORRIS: That's Jack Riepe. He's the global director of communications for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. Earlier, we'd heard from John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute.

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