- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

CHICAGO President Bush yesterday announced a federal takeover of airline security, requested governors to order National Guard troops to patrol airports, and set aside funds to fortify the flimsy cockpit doors that separate pilots from potential hijackers.
In the most sweeping escalation of security measures in the history of the U.S. airline industry, Mr. Bush also dramatically expanded the number of federal air marshals who travel undercover on commercial flights. And he called for technology that will allow officials on the ground to commandeer and land planes in which pilots have been incapacitated.
"With all these actions, we're returning airlines back to the American people," Mr. Bush told thousands of cheering airline workers at O'Hare International Airport. "We're making a strong statement that together the government and the private sector will make flying a way of life again in America."
It was only the second time Mr. Bush has ventured outside the Washington area since Sept. 11, when four hijacked jetliners were transformed into weapons of mass destruction, killing more than 6,000 people. The president chose airline workers as his audience because their industry has lost upwards of 100,000 jobs amid lingering fears of flying.
"These have been incredibly tense days for the people who work in airline industry, difficult times for stewardesses and captains and baggage handlers and people who run the desks," Mr. Bush said. "You stand against terror by flying the airplanes and by maintaining them. You stand against terror by loading a bag or serving a passenger.
"And by doing so, you're expressing a firm national commitment that's so important: That we will not surrender our freedom to travel, that we will not surrender our freedoms in America," he added.
Mr. Bush made a point of speaking at an outdoor rally to demonstrate that he is not afraid to appear in public or venture far from Washington. But it was also a very secure setting a courtyard between two large hangars, with jetliners and other airport vehicles parked along the sides as obstacles to potential intruders.
As the president urged Americans to fly again, a succession of commercial aircraft streaked into the cloudless blue sky behind him, as if on cue. Flight attendants in the audience clutched banners that said, "Be Patriotic Fly."
"Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots," said Mr. Bush, who was accompanied by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. "Go down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed."
But even as he emphasized that nine of his own Cabinet members are flying commercial aircraft today, he made clear that such travel will never be the same. He asked all 50 governors to call up more than 4,000 National Guardsmen to 420 airports, where they will guard a limited number of checkpoints for the next four to six months.
Governors around the country moved quickly yesterday to grant Mr. Bush's request that they call up National Guard units to protect airports until better long-term security measures are in place. They were heartened by the fact that the cost, estimated at between $100 million and $150 million, will be paid by the federal government.
That includes the price of training sessions, expected to last three or four days, that will be conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The Defense Department will also assist in deploying the National Guardsmen.
Pending congressional approval, the National Guardsmen would then give way to a permanent, uniformed federal force that would likely be much larger, taking charge of the 28,000 civilians who currently handle all aspects of airport security. The new force would screen customers and baggage; perform safety inspections of planes; and purchase and maintain all security equipment.
Before the terrorist strikes, the airline industry spent between $750 million and $1 billion on security each year. That is expected to rise significantly, although it is not clear how the increased costs will be divided between taxpayers and the airline industry.
A senior administration official said this new federal force would be placed under the jurisdiction of a Cabinet agency that has yet to be determined. The official would not rule out placing the force under the newly announced Office of Homeland Security, a Cabinet agency to be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
Indeed, a White House fact sheet noted that the new federal security force at airports will "serve as a key facilitator of coordination regarding homeland security."
The new force would establish stringent security standards, run intensive background checks on guards and oversee patrols of all secure areas.
"This is a big step," the administration official said in an interview. "I mean, the federal government is assuming responsibility for the security of our airports and airlines."
Part of that responsibility involves rigging commercial jetliners with technologies that have been used in corporate jets for years.
These include video cameras that alert pilots to activity in the passenger cabins. Mr. Bush also wants to make it impossible to turn off transponders, the tracking devices that tell air-traffic controllers the altitude and position of planes. The transponders in the planes hijacked on Sept. 11 were turned off to thwart tracking efforts.
The president earmarked $500 million in federal funds, which will be available Oct. 1, to develop these and other technologies, including fortified doors that would prevent hijackers from gaining access to cockpits. Currently, cockpits are separated from passenger cabins by thin doors, most of which can be opened by a single skeleton key that is common to many airlines.
In addition, armed federal air marshals will proliferate.
"These marshals of course will wear plainclothes," Mr. Bush said. "They're going to be like any other passenger, but Americans will know that there are more of them, and our crews will know there are more of them. And the terrorists will know there are more of them."
The senior official said the number of sky marshals "is something the administration is going to try and keep classified for obvious security reasons. We don't want terrorists knowing how many are up there and kind of figure out what the odds are. But it's going to be dramatically increased."
Meanwhile, House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young said there is a bipartisan effort with ranking Democrat Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota to pass a package similar to that proposed by Mr. Bush yesterday.
"While it's safer to fly today than it ever has been before, President Bush's new package is an excellent step in further improving our nation's airline and aviation security," said the Alaska Republican.
The House bill would place federal marshals on domestic flights, improve airport security, protect pilots in the cockpit and strengthen airport employee screening.
Republicans say they are working closely with Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and the bill is scheduled for House completion early next week.
Audrey Hudson contributed to this article.

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