- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003


The latest government terror warning is giving a push to the stalled effort to allow cargo pilots to carry weapons in the cockpit.

The Homeland Security Department warned police last week that al Qaeda may be plotting to fly cargo planes from another country into U.S. nuclear plants, bridges, dams or other targets.

That warning prompted the Senate to pass a bill late Monday that would allow cargo pilots to carry guns, according to Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, the bill’s sponsor.

“It closes a big loophole in our homeland security,” he said.

Mr. Bunning said he hopes the House will take up the bill early next week.

The White House, he said, assured him that President Bush would sign the bill into law.

Congress last year gave passenger pilots, but not cargo pilots, the right to carry guns in the cockpit if they volunteered and underwent a week of training on their own time. Mr. Bunning’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, would establish the same requirements for cargo pilots.

The air freight industry has lobbied to prevent cargo pilots from carrying guns.

“We feel we have strong, effective security measures in place,” said David Bolger, UPS spokesman. “Introducing guns to the cockpit does not increase security. We feel it decreases security.”

Cargo pilots say their planes are more vulnerable than passenger airliners, which have received far more attention since the September 11 terror attacks.

Only a small percentage of freight is checked before being shipped in cargo planes. Air marshals don’t fly aboard cargo planes, and freight-handling areas at airports are not as secure as passenger terminals.

In September, Charles McKinley illustrated the pilots’ point when he packed himself in a crate and flew undetected on a cargo plane from New York to Dallas.

Leon Laylagian, spokesman for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations’ security committee, said cargo pilots want the same level of security as passenger pilots.

Arming pilots, he said, “will mitigate the possibility of the recent al Qaeda threat to cargo aviation.”

Mr. Bunning said the next challenge will be to prod the Transportation Security Administration to train more pilots at a faster pace.

“They’ve been dragging their feet big time,” he said.

In the year since Congress ordered the agency to arm pilots, fewer than 1,000 have been trained, according to Capt. Bob Lambert, president of the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, a grass-roots organization with members from all major U.S. airlines. Mr. Lambert said as many as 40,000 commercial passenger pilots want to carry weapons while flying. He estimated there are 25,000 cargo pilots in the United States.

TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said the agency plans to double its training capacity in January. He said everyone who has applied for the program will be trained by Oct. 1, 2004.

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