- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

Terrorists be forewarned: Trying to hijack an American airliner will get you shot. As of today, a number of commercial pilots will be armed with .40 caliber semiautomatic pistols during flight. Authorizing flyboys to carry guns is one of the most commonsense steps the Bush administration has taken to prevent planes from again being used as guided missiles as they were on September 11, 2001.
Yesterday, the inaugural training course to certify carry permits for pilots concluded. The intensive weeklong program included thousands of rounds of target practice, physical-fitness and psychological testing, instructions on how best to wrestle down and immobilize a troublemaker and training in methods for how to fire on hijackers with minimal danger to passengers. At most, 46 will graduate from last week's pilot program. And although this is only a small number of the commercial airline pilots in the United States, there is no way for a miscreant to know which airmen are armed and which aren't. The next class of new trainees begins in July. Funded by Congress and run by the Transportation Security Agency, the program will incrementally educate and approve approximately 30,000 pilots roughly one-third of America's commercial total to carry guns in the air.
Arming as many pilots as possible relieves pressure on the Department of Transportation, which is having difficulty finding enough qualified candidates to be air marshals without raiding other law-enforcement agencies such as the border patrol. Armed pilots also offer cost-effective deterrence.
We're not against federal air marshals if that's what it takes to make the skies safe from terrorists, but there's no reason they offer the only security option. As airline consultant Michael Boyd explains, "[Pilots] operate $100 million pieces of equipment. They can sure learn to operate a .38 snubnose if they want to." The fact that a majority of commercial pilots were formerly in the military and thus have previous professional experience with firearms adds to the logic of arming pilots to defend planes. The public is on board, too. One CNN poll revealed that 72 percent of respondents would feel safer flying if pilots were armed.
There are still a few squeaks and rattles to be worked out in the initiative. Some pilots are worried that strict security regulations to keep handguns locked up in the cockpit will make sidearms practically inaccessible in case of an emergency. For example, current rules stipulate that a pilot's pistol be locked away in a safebox when he goes to the toilet. The intent is that a weapon will never be in the public cabin, where it could possibly fall into the wrong hands in the event that a pilot is overpowered by a bad guy. Pilots' groups feel that such an occasion when a pilot is indisposed is exactly the moment terrorists might choose to make their moves.
However the details work out, today is an important day for air-travel safety. Arming pilots is an obvious deterrent to would-be hijackers. Airplane and airport security policy still does have a long way to go. For instance, shaking down granny to make sure she isn't sneaking a corkscrew onto a flight continues to be a waste of law-enforcement resources that could be better used elsewhere. But Washington is now getting serious. Terrorists packing hate onto planes now have to worry about confronting pilots packing heat. We're all safer because of it.

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