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Testing a Rational Choice Model of Airline Hijackings

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 43 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2005 Pages: 1031-1066
Laura Dugan; Gary LaFree; Alex R. Piquero
Date Published
November 2005
36 pages
This paper presents results from a study which applied the rational choice perspective to test hypotheses about the success, benefits, and costs of aerial hijacking using data obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration, the RAND Corporation, and a newly developed database on global terrorist activity.
The rational choice perspective predicts that the frequency of aerial hijackings will decrease if the probability of success is decreased, the perceived benefits are reduced, and the perceived costs are increased. This analysis tested specific hypotheses developed from rational choice theory and permits the exploration as to whether these general expectations/hypotheses hold equally well depending on the location of the incident and the likely motivation of hijackers. The hypotheses included: (1) the hazard of new hijacking attempts would increase shortly after earlier attempts; (2) the hazard of new hijacking attempts would be greater following a series of successful hijackings; and (3) compared to those who hijack for other reasons, the hazard of hijacking attempts by terrorists would be less affected by counter hijacking measures that raise the severity or certainty of punishment. The rational choice perspective is applied to both terrorist and non-terrorist hijackers. The study used hazard modeling to identify how a set of theoretically relevant variables affected the time between hijacking incidents. It then used logistic regression analysis to identify the qualities of hijacking attempts that were most likely to contribute to their success. The study findings support three main conclusions: (1) new hijacking attempts are less likely to be undertaken when the certainty of apprehension or severity of punishment increases; (2) the rate of hijackings significantly increased following a series of successful hijackings but actually declined following a series of hijacking attempts that did not take success into account; and (3) counter-hijacking policies examined had no impact on the hazard of terrorism-related hijacking attempts. Tables, figures, references