Tuesday, November 9, 2004

A foreign airline has been given permission by the federal government to carry electronic Taser stun guns on some of its flights in the United States to protect against hijackings or other attacks.

The request by Korean Air was approved by the Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) late last month.

Korean Air flights landing or departing the United States, or crossing U.S. airspace, will be allowed to carry the weapons, but those flights completely contained within the nation will not. At least 50 flights a week will carry the weapons.

Tom Smith, president of Arizona-based Taser International, declined to say if the weapons will be used by pilots, flight attendants or marshals. However, a government source confirmed that cabin attendants would receive the training.

“It will be used by specially trained personnel. [The airline] asked us not to go into detail or tactics,” Mr. Smith said.

Taser International has lobbied the Homeland Security Department for three years to allow Taser guns as a security measure on board U.S. airliners. Mr. Smith said United Airlines and “several other carriers” want to use the weapon to protect their aircraft.

Approval by the Homeland Security Department for the international airline signals that domestic airlines will begin submitting their own plans for approval to use the weapon already used by 6,000 law enforcement agencies, Mr. Smith said.

United Airlines reportedly has purchased more than 1,000 of the weapons but has not completed the application process with the TSA to deploy the stun guns.

Yolanda Clark, TSA spokeswoman, said an agency working group studied several of the so-called “not-so-lethal weapons” in 2003, including devices that shoot beanbags, nets and chemicals. They concluded that only the electric-shock devices could be used to enhance commercial security.

“If the training is done right, and according to TSA standards, it can actually provide another layer of security against terrorists,” Miss Clark said.

She declined to speculate on whether the devices would become a trend for domestic carriers, but said “a couple of carriers have explored the idea of arming pilots with less-than-lethal weapons, but none have carried the application process to conclusion.”

The weapon sends out a wire and hook and can render a potential terrorist motionless with an electrical volt charge lasting several seconds.

“They can’t continue to fight,” Mr. Smith said. “It overrides the central nervous system, locking them up.”

Korean Air has carried the Taser guns for years outside the United States.

“This is a monumental step we have worked on for years,” Mr. Smith said.

Nationally, thousands of flights are protected by armed federal air marshals, and nearly 6,000 pilots have been trained and carry guns to protect the cockpit against a terrorist attack.

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