- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Pilots would be allowed to carry weapons in cockpits and airports would get a year's reprieve from screening all air travelers' baggage under the homeland security bill nearing a final vote in Congress.
Passenger advocates praised the decision to extend the Dec. 31 deadline to screen all checked luggage. They said there was not enough time to finish the construction needed to install bomb-detection machines at hundreds of airports.
Also, temporary measures would have caused long delays and crowding, they said.
David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said the extension is "a big, big, big deal."
The compromise passed the House on Wednesday as airport managers meeting in Salt Lake City expressed concern that many airports would not meet the deadline. The Senate is expected to pass it next week.
Managers of airports that handle 75 percent of U.S. air traffic sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday predicting chaos and damage to the economy without an extension.
Nonetheless, in a speech Wednesday to the managers, Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy said he was against an across-the-board extension.
"We're under threat from terrorists who have made it clear that they will stop at nothing to kill Americans," he said. "I don't and I won't support a wholesale delay in the December 31 deadline."
The agency, created by Congress after the September 11 attacks, is responsible for installing and staffing baggage-screening machines at 429 commercial airports.
Mr. Loy said about 95 percent of the airports would be in compliance by Dec. 31. Airport managers questioned those figures.
Mr. Stempler said airports had two ways to meet the deadline if they did not have the proper equipment installed. They could search all baggage by hand or with bomb-sniffing dogs something expected to create huge backlogs in terminals or require passengers to be matched with their luggage on connecting flights.
Bags cannot be loaded on a plane now unless the passenger also boards, but they can be loaded onto a connecting flight without being matched to a passenger. Matching all bags would not deter suicidal terrorists, though, Mr. Stempler said.
In addition to easing the hassles passengers would encounter at airports, the bill helps airlines by extending government-issued war-risk insurance through August, according to Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House aviation subcommittee.
"It's a $1 billion saving for the industry," Mr. Mica said.
The bill also limits liability against companies for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, many pilots welcomed the requirement that a training program for carrying weapons in the cockpit would begin within three months of the bill's passage. Any pilot of a commercial passenger plane could sign up for the training. After completing it, the pilot would be allowed to take a gun into the cockpit.
"We are looking for a last line of defense and that defense has to be lethal to counter lethal intent," said Gregg Overman, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Union representing 13,500 American Airlines pilots.
Mr. Loy had wanted a more limited program, saying the cost to arm and train all pilots could be as much as $900 million to start and $250 million annually thereafter.
Foreign-owned airlines criticized the plan to let commercial airline pilots carry weapons.
"A pilot's focus needs to be on flying the plane," said Wanda Warner, spokeswoman for the International Air Transport Association. The organization represents U.S. and foreign-owned airlines and opposes arming flight crews with lethal weapons.
Ms. Warner questioned the need for armed pilots because bulletproof cockpit doors are supposed to be installed on all commercial aircraft flying in the United States by April 9.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide