- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Key House lawmakers are working to close a loophole in the Homeland Security Act that excludes cargo pilots from carrying firearms to protect their aircraft from terrorist attacks.
The legislation now moving through Congress would allow 10,000 cargo pilots to train and carry weapons in the cockpit after undergoing background checks. In addition to cargo, the planes carry vendor customers and company employees.
"There are no federal air marshals on cargo flights and we cannot allow these jets to be used for future terrorist attacks," said Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"We've already passed legislation allowing 60,000 commercial airline pilots to seek qualifications for this program and it's time we allow cargo pilots to have the same protections for their aircraft," said Mr. Young, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.
Originally, the Homeland Security Act allowed all pilots to arm themselves, but it was amended later to permit only commercial pilots, angering professional pilot organizations and unions.
President Bush signed into law in the fall the act that allows 60,000 commercial airline pilots to seek qualifications for this program, and Mr. Mica said it is now necessary to give cargo pilots the same protection.
"America's airline pilots both commercial and cargo pilots know best that they can both control their aircraft and defend their cockpits when necessary," Mr. Mica said.
"Cargo pilots often carry passengers on flights and fly some of our largest aircraft, like 747s," he added.
Duane Woerth, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), said at the time that the change "defies logic and creates a serious threat to public safety."
Mr. Woerth said the change left an "obvious loophole" that was "mind-boggling."
David Webb, chairman of the ALPA's FedEx unit, said the loophole created safety and security regulations.
"It was bad enough that cargo airline security had been overlooked in the rush to beef up airline anti-terrorist procedures after September 11," Mr. Webb said.
"Despite the fact that a hijacked cargo airliner makes just as deadly a guided missile as one full of passengers, not enough has been done to protect this segment of the industry from terrorist attacks."
The corrective legislation has drawn praise from the pilots association, which released a statement saying that it will work with Congress to pass what it says is a "greatly needed improvement to aviation security."
Those against arming pilots say the bill is being used as a quick fix to the problem of airport security.
Roger Waldman, a former Air Canada pilot called it "naive" and said that it sends a wrong message that pilots do not trust the airport security system.
"A pilot might overreact to a perceived emergency and wound or kill a passenger or fellow crewmember. A stray bullet could render vital avionics inoperative or puncture the aircraft skin," Mr. Waldman wrote in AviationNow.com.
"And while pilots in general are a responsible, disciplined lot, they are not infallible. There are irresponsible individuals who should not have access to a firearm in the cockpit. For these and other reasons, many pilots believe guns on airplanes should only be in the hands of the professionals the sky marshals," Mr. Waldman said.

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