- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

From combined dispatches

The Senate overwhelmingly supported a measure yesterday that would arm commercial airline pilots on a voluntary basis in a dramatic security step aimed at preventing hijackings.

The chamber approved the plan as an amendment to a bill creating the Homeland Security Department legislation that may not come up for a final vote for several weeks.

The House has already passed separate legislation to arm the nation's commercial pilots, also on a voluntary basis.

But the Senate's plan is slightly different. For instance, it also would provide self-defense training for flight attendants. Differences in the two measures would have to be worked out during House and Senate negotiations on the homeland security bill.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, reversed course yesterday by saying it would go along with arming commercial pilots, provided a long list of safety and training concerns are addressed.

The administration earlier yesterday wrote two senators outlining specific recommendations, such as issuing pilots lockboxes to carry their weapons so they are not left in the cockpit. The letter said only pilots who volunteer to carry weapons and receive extensive training should be armed.

It warned the cost would be significant $900 million to start and $250 million annually thereafter and said there is no money now in the Transportation Security Administration budget to cover the expenses.

The administration suggests a "detailed, effective" training program be designed from scratch and tested before an estimated 85,000 pilots are allowed to carry weapons.

The letter from agency chief James Loy was delivered to Sens. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, as the Senate debated a measure that would allow all pilots to carry guns in the cockpit. Mr. Hollings is the chairman of the Senate Commerce and Transportation Committee; Mr. McCain is the committee's ranking Republican.

"If there is to be responsible legislation establishing a program to allow guns in the cockpit, it must address the numerous safety, security, cost and operational issues," Mr. Loy wrote.

Advocates of guns in the cockpit say they are a last line of defense, needed during the difficult transition to a better aviation security system.

The chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, said pilots should be armed at least until bulletproof cockpit doors are installed in all planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday that manufacturers and airlines agree an April 9 deadline to install the new doors can be met.

Mr. Mica said the administration has realized that the momentum in Congress favoring armed pilots is strong. A bill to create a program that would train and arm some pilots passed the House 310-113 in July.

Airlines have fought such efforts; pilot unions support the idea.

Transportation Undersecretary John Magaw, who headed the Transportation Security Administration until July, said in May he would not allow pilots to carry guns.

He said reinforced cockpits and armed air marshals would provide enough protection against terrorists who try to take over an airplane.

After Mr. Magaw's departure, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said he would re-examine the issue.

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