More than 20,000 commercial airline pilots have presented a petition to lawmakers urging them to support the arming of flight crews as a “last line of defense” against terrorist hijackings.

The petition effort, led by the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, comes as APSA officials announced their disappointment over a Transportation Security Administration decision to allow pilots to only carry “non-lethal” weapons. It was presented to lawmakers at a press conference yesterday in Washington, D.C.

In earlier talks with government officials, the airline security organization said “the administration led APSA and other groups to believe that an affirmative decision regarding firearms was imminent.”

However, “at the last minute the Department of Transportation leaked that non-lethal devices would be approved in place of real defense of our cockpits, passengers and crew,” APSA said.

The advocacy group, along with “all major pilot unions are in complete agreement on the issue of arming pilots,” said Capt. Tracy W. Price, APSA chairman.

“We are not going to let this issue die. Airline pilots and passengers understand that this is the common sense answer to the terrorist attacks of nearly eight months ago,” he said. “We’re not quitting this effort until we have the ability to defend our passengers and crews – as well as the innocent civilians that would become victims if our airplanes are again used as guided bombs.”

The petition specifically addresses Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who, as chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s Aviation subcommittee, carries some weight over the issue.

Capt. Bob Lambert, a spokesman for APSA, told WorldNetDaily in April that there was “increasing support” from various sectors on Capitol Hill and within the administration for the plan.

But opposing the pilot’s efforts was the nation’s largest flight attendant union. Representatives from the Association of Flight Attendants said the organization could not support any initiative to arm pilots without gaining assurances that pilots’ guns would be used to protect the rest of the flight crew as well.

“We’re against the pilots having guns until we know that they’re going to come out of the cockpit, into the cabin, to defend us and the passengers,” Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants, told the Washington Post. “If there are no tools or training for flight attendants to protect themselves and passengers, what we end up with is planes getting to their destination with a bunch of dead people in the back.”

APSA says Congress already authorized pilots to carry guns in cockpits in airline security legislation signed by President Bush last fall. But the provision leaves the decision up to Transportation Security Administration chief John Magaw.

Magaw held discussions about arming pilots with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta earlier this week, but no decision had yet been made, reported the Post.

One Transportation official told the paper that a decision was likely by next week.

“This is particularly unnerving in light of the recent DOT Inspector General’s report that admitted airport security fails to detect weapons 48 percent of the time, including 70 percent of knives – the weapon of choice in Sept. 11 hijackings,” said APSA. “This same administration believes the threat of future terrorist hijackings is real and imminent. Americans deserve much better.”

The group said the choice to rely on less-than-lethal “stun guns” and Tasers goes against a December 2001 recommendation from the FBI not to rely on such weapons to defend airliners.

“Less than lethal devices, including stun guns and Tasers, should not be relied upon to defend the cockpit of an aircraft,” the FBI said, as quoted by APSA officials.

Also, the decision seems to violate public opinion. During a public commentary period earlier this year, most people who responded said they preferred pilots to be armed, according to DOT officials.

Mineta, in published comments, has come out against arming pilots. So has Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

Pilots say they are more than qualified to carry arms inside the cockpit. Many say that, as military vets, they have had weapons training. Others say that they are trusted daily with hundreds of lives and millions of dollars worth of aircraft.

Also, they say the federal government is arming sky marshals, which proves “lethal force is needed to defend airliners,” APSA said.

The group has developed a volunteer program it wants the government to adopt to train and equip volunteer pilots with firearms.

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