Tags: House | Transportation | Committee | Moves | Arm | Pilots

House Transportation Committee Moves To Arm Pilots

Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00 AM

"We now face a possible situation where the Department of Defense may be forced to make the difficult decision of having our own Air Force shoot down a plane full of innocent passengers due to a terrorist takeover," said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska.

"Regrettably, I'm afraid that's always going to be a possibility now," Gen. Ralph Eberhart, commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command told the House Armed Services Committee after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

Noting that "pilots are already entrusted with the lives of every passenger on the plane," Young says those pilots should also be equipped with firearms to defend themselves against terrorists and other hijackers.

"I strongly believe that under these new circumstances, we must allow trained and qualified pilots to serve as the last line of defense against such a potential disaster," he said.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, says the idea of arming pilots is not one that he and Young "just cooked up one day in the House cloakroom.

"Of all the people who look at aviation security, in my opinion, there's no one that's more experienced than these pilots. They know the weaknesses of the system," Mica said, "and when they're asking us to help arm and defend themselves, Congress must comply with that request."

Capt. Steve Luckey flies for Northwest Airlines and is chairman of the National Security Committee for the Air Line Pilots Association. He says support for a voluntary program to arm pilots is overwhelming.

"This is something that we feel desperately needs to be done," Luckey said.

He notes that many of the Air Force Reserve pilots flying combat air patrols over U.S. cities are also commercial airline pilots.

"Our federal government has seen the wisdom of providing those aircraft with ... guided missiles, but they don't trust us with guns in the cockpit," Luckey argued.

A Time/CNN poll taken just after the Sept. 11 attacks revealed that 61 percent of Americans favored allowing pilots to carry guns. Two polls conducted more recently, one by the Winston Group and another by the Wilson Center, found that level of support had risen to 75 percent.

A survey by the Allied Pilots Association Oct. 9-10 found 75 percent of respondents supported arming pilots. Apparently, those surveyed saw the issue as one of safety, not guns. Of those who advocated "some form of gun control," 77 percent also supported arming pilots.

Additionally, according to a February survey of ALPA members, 73 percent favored allowing pilots the option to be armed, even if the responding pilot said they would not personally participate in the program.

Those on record as opposing the proposal are various anti-Second Amendment groups, Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

"I've expressed a personal opinion on this," Mineta said March 4. "I don't feel that we should have lethal weapons in the cockpit."

Undersecretary for Transportation Security John Magaw - the former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms - is charged with making the final decision on arming pilots under the current law. But the Young-Mica legislation would change that.

The bill would require Magaw to establish a program to deputize qualified, volunteer pilots as "Federal Flight Deck Officers" within 90 days after its enactment. Within 120 days of enactment, 500 such pilots must be deputized under the act, and all volunteer pilots who meet the requirements must be deputized within two years.

The proposal would provide training and background checks for the pilots similar to those undergone by Federal Air Marshals.

Young says he's not concerned about the opposition to the bill by some in the Bush administration or the Congress.

"I will challenge anyone not to get behind this bill," he warned. "They will be very, very, very surprised at the outcry and rage from the general public, because the public supports this."

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We now face a possible situation where the Department of Defense may be forced to make the difficult decision of having our own Air Force shoot down a plane full of innocent passengers due to a terrorist takeover, said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young,...
Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00 AM
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