- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The federal government will not allow commercial airline pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit, a Bush administration official told lawmakers yesterday.

"The cockpit in the aircraft is for the pilots to maintain positive control of that aircraft," said Transportation Security Administration Director John Magaw, rejecting a request by the nation's largest pilots union to arm themselves in the wake of the September 11 suicide hijackings.

He said a pilot's responsibility is to "get it on the ground as quickly as you can, regardless of what's happening back there" in the cabin.

Pilots' unions and some prominent Republican lawmakers reacted angrily.

"The government already has told us that if terrorists take control of one of our cockpits, they will send military aircraft to shoot down the airliner and all its crew and passengers," said Duane Woerth, president of the 62,000-member Air Line Pilots Association. "In the face of such choices, we do not understand why these same government officials refuse to give pilots a last chance to prevent such a tragedy."

And Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he "strongly disagreed" with the administration's decision.

"Nothing else can provide the deterrence or effectiveness of a gun wielded by a highly trained individual," Mr. Young said. "The events of September 11th have dramatically changed how we must defend our planes and passengers."

His panel's aviation subcommittee will consider a bill today that would allow pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit after they complete intensive training.

The chairman of that subcommittee, Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican, said pilots should be allowed to carry guns because few flights contain air marshals and proposals to strengthen cockpit doors are years away.

"Knowing what I know now, I can't sleep at night," Mr. Mica said. "The pilots should be armed immediately."

Since the hijackings, when terrorists armed with boxcutter knives broke into the cockpits of four jetliners, pilots have been pleading with lawmakers and the White House to allow them to fight back. But many government officials fear that pilots' guns could be used instead by hijackers, or that passengers could be harmed in a shootout.

"If I was a terrorist, I'd say,'Whoopee, we don't have to worry about all this security They've got all the weapons on board for me,'" said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "All I got to do is grab a bunch of them and take the plane over."

Pilots, he said, "are there to fly, and not to fight."

Mr. Magaw said the weapons training for air marshals is more intensive than any other training except possibly that of Delta Forces in the U.S. military.

"Obviously if that firearm is discharged obviously we don't want them under the normal circumstances to hurt or kill an innocent person," Mr. Magaw said. "But we certainly also don't want them shooting that firearm with the possibility of bringing that airliner down."

A Republican on the Senate commerce committee urged the Bush administration to reconsider. Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana said pilots should be allowed to carry guns if they undergo the same weapons training as armed air marshals.

"If we have people on an airplane who are willing to die in the commitment of such an act, I see no reason why we shouldn't [kill the terrorists] a little bit before they get it done," Mr. Burns said. "That's kind of a Marine way to look at it, but that's just the way I think."

Mr. Burns will introduce legislation next week similar to the House bill allowing pilots to carry guns, but Mr. Hollings opposes it.

Mr. Hollings said the administration could end the debate by speeding the installation of impenetrable cockpit doors and other security measures in every passenger plane. He criticized the federal regulation that prevents passengers who fly into or out of Ronald Reagan National Airport from using the airplane bathroom within 30 minutes flying time of the nation's capital.

"It's not even necessary," Mr. Hollings said. "Just keep the cockpit door closed. You can put up a sign in Arab this is, say, type-casting, but say 'Try to hijack, go to jail.' Put that in every one of the airports in America so they'll all know hijacking is over with."


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