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Consumer Group Calls for Armed Air Marshals

Wednesday, 26 September 2001 12:00 AM

"We are suggesting a further study be made on updating and enhancing training for the cockpit and crew members, so they may have more defensive actions to deal with acts of terrorists, including arming crew members," Bill McGee said at news conference at the Consumers Union in Washington, D.C.

But when later asked to confirm his statement on whether pilots should be armed with guns, McGee, editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, said the Consumer Union limits its endorsement for armed persons on board only to federal air marshals.

"Others with expertise are examining the question, and it deserves further consideration with respect for on-board safety," he said. "But we agree with President Bush that the federal air marshal program should be expanded."

McGee added that one thing to consider when expanding the air marshal program is the "need to prevent hijackers from boarding planes by investing in a highly professional and skilled federal airport security force to keep them from ever entering the plane."

McGee's comments came as part of a list of policy ideas being released by the Consumers Union that will suggest to Congress how the federal government and airlines can keep air travelers safe.

"The proposals we offered today are going to be handed over to both the Department of Transportation and to the committees with the proper oversight in Congress, the Transportation Committee and this new terrorism task force that has been set up," said David Butler, media director of the Consumers Union.

One recommendation is to establish a federal airport security force, which would develop, implement and administer new standards for security procedures and passenger screening at all airports. Part of the plan advises that officials use higher levels of scrutiny for all passengers and their baggage, in addition to rigorous screening of all airport employees.

Other recommendations included eliminating curb-side baggage check-in; cracking down on vehicle standing, parking and delivery procedures outside of airport terminals; requiring that a passenger's checked baggage be removed from the plane if the passenger is not on board; and developing ways to provide funding for these federal security measures by sharing the costs among airline passengers and the federal government.

McGee said not all of these changes could be implemented immediately, but with a commitment from all parties involved, the changes could be successful.

"Clearly the travel industry is in a state of flux right now and many proposals will need to be modified or enhanced over the long term," McGee said. "The changes that are being made now and that will continue to be made in the future require a new sense of commitment from government, private sector and even travelers themselves."

James Guest, president of the Consumers Union, said responsibility for safety lies not only with the federal government, but with passengers, too.

"Safety and security are new priorities for all of us," Guest said. "The federal government, local airport authorities, and the aviation industry must redouble their efforts in this regard. We believe airline passengers must change their level of expectations, and their behavior, as well."

Among the ways the Consumers Union advised passengers to make traveling easier and safer is to carry a paper ticket; pack light to avoid long lines due to heavy security scrutiny of passengers' personal items; and report suspicious persons or packages to authorities.

The need for changes in security are underscored by recent events, and Guest predicted American travelers will never again see the speed and ease with which domestic air travel was done before September 11.

"The days when we could leave Manhattan at three o'clock in the afternoon for a four o'clock shuttle flight and still have time for a cup of coffee on the way are history," said Guest. "They are behind us now."

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We are suggesting a further study be made on updating and enhancing training for the cockpit and crew members, so they may have more defensive actions to deal with acts of terrorists, including arming crew members, Bill McGee said at news conference at the Consumers Union...
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2001-00-26
Wednesday, 26 September 2001 12:00 AM
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