- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Airline pilots would be armed with guns on commercial flights under a bill introduced yesterday by two members of Congress who hold key transportation committee positions.
The bill would take the authority to make the decision away from the Transportation Security Administration. It runs counter to Bush administration policies opposing guns for pilots.
"We now face a possible situation where the Department of Defense may be forced to make the difficult decision of having our own Air Force shoot down a plane full of innocent passengers due to a terrorist takeover," said Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican. "I strongly believe that under these new circumstances, that we must allow trained and qualified pilots to serve as the last line of defense against such a potential disaster."
Mr. Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, introduced the bill authorizing guns for pilots.
Mr. Young also said he believes the support for his bill inside and outside of Congress is adequate to overcome opposition from the Bush administration.
"The pressure is there," Mr. Young said. "I think it will happen."
The Young-Mica bill would allow volunteer pilots and co-pilots to be armed. They would be called "federal flight deck officers" and be deputized as federal law enforcement officers. They would have their backgrounds checked and be trained under the federal air marshal program.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said such a policy could create more danger than it eliminates.
"We don't need to have a potential for handguns getting loose on airplanes," he said.
A better option, he said, is to rely on federal air marshals, strengthened cockpit doors and thorough screening of passengers and baggage at airports.
Airline pilot unions support the idea of being allowed to carry guns.
"This is something we feel desperately needs to be done," said Steve Luckey, security chief for the Air Line Pilots Association.
Suicidal terrorists can always find a way to break through even a reinforced cockpit door, he said.
"There isn't a door made that can't be breached," he said. "We have to have something between that door and an F-16 that's going to shoot us down."
Originally, the Transportation Security Administration was supposed to decide whether to arm pilots. Yesterday, however, Transportation Security Administration chief John Magaw said he would wait to see what Congress decides on the issue.
"It's still developing," he said.
The Transportation Security Administration has considered stun guns and Tasers for pilots instead of firearms. Both devices administer electrical shocks that can temporarily immobilize a person.
"At the time the decision is made on the firearms, we'll probably also make a decision on other devices," Mr. Magaw said.
Early last month, the five largest airline pilot unions asked President Bush to adopt a policy allowing them to carry guns on airplanes.
Many airlines are skeptical.
"Our members are split on this," said Diana Cronin, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, an airline-industry group. "Generally, we don't think it's a good idea."
She agreed with Bush administration concerns that terrorists or other persons could wrestle the guns away from the pilots.
A congressional hearing on whether to arm pilots is scheduled for tomorrow before the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee, which Mr. Mica heads.
Mr. Magaw spoke at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where the first federal work force of airport screeners took over security operations at two gates yesterday. Federal screeners are scheduled to take over security at the airport's other three gates within a month.
BWI is the nation's first airport to have a federal work force of screeners. By Nov. 19, about 30,000 federal screeners are supposed to take over all screening operations at 429 commercial airports.


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