Coming soon: Pilots packing heat

By Jon Dougherty

A leading pilots’ organization is praising the passage of legislation creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security because it contains a provision allowing for the arming of aircrews.

“We are very pleased that arming airline pilots will soon be the law of the land and that the Homeland Security bill requires the [Transportation Security Administration] to implement a strong program,” said Capt. Tracy Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, a group that has supported arming pilots as an anti-terrorism measure since the 9-11 attacks.

Price says the legislation places “no limits on [pilot] participation.” He said “each pilot of a passenger airliner that passes the screening and training will be allowed to carry a firearm on the flight deck.”

“The passenger airlines will not be allowed to ‘opt out’ of the program – participation in the program will be an individual decision that each pilot will make independent of his or her employer,” said Price.

He said one “significant weakness” in the armed pilot provision is that it does not pertain to pilots flying cargo jets.

“Airline pilots flying freight will not be allowed to participate in the armed-pilot program,” said Price. “Considering that these pilots never have the advantage of federal air marshals or the possibility of passenger intervention to stop an attack on the flight deck, this is a serious hole in the program.”

Price said a 747 cargo jet in the hands of determined terrorists “will knock down a building just as well as a 747 passenger airliner.” He said his group would be working with members of the incoming 108th Congress to remedy the loophole.

The Senate passed the Homeland Security bill Tuesday on a vote of 90-9. President Bush is expected to sign it as early as next week, White House officials said.

Capt. Robert Lambert, a spokesman for APSA, told WorldNetDaily that while he deplores the federalization of airport security and the huge growth of government he believes the homeland bill represents, he says he’s pleased that the armed-pilot provision passed.

Lambert says the provision takes the issue of arming pilots “out of the hands of airlines.”

“APSA now looks forward to working with the TSA to produce a top-notch program for arming pilots that will provide a critical layer to our aviation security system,” Price added.

Price and Lambert both praised outgoing Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., for his stewardship of the bill in the Senate.

“We owe many people thanks for this important victory, but none more than Sen. Bob Smith and his staff that led this fight,” said Price. “Arming airline pilots is a common-sense measure that will become part of the large and impressive legacy of Sen. Smith.”

Messages left at Smith’s office were not returned.

Other pilots’ organizations also supported arming pilots.

“We believe that airline security, if it is to be effective, should not rely on just one or two security measures. In order to foil would-be terrorists, security should be multi-layered,” says Capt. Robert M. Miller, head of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. “We conceive of proper airline security as consisting of multiple ‘concentric circles’ of security defenses.”

“As a final defense,” he said, “we advocate the ability of pilots to have access to lethal weapons in the cockpit.”

But Bob Miller, head of the Independent Pilots Association, said as long as cargo pilots were unable to carry firearms, that would leave a “back door” open for more terrorist hijackings.

“What upsets myself and … several other people out there is this – you can’t have this concept of, ‘we’re going to lock the front door, but we’re going to leave the back door open,'” he said Wednesday. “We have contacts at the TSA, and some people in there are actually taking the message in to say they don’t think it’s consistent with security to have one group armed and another group not armed.”

According to the House version of the measure, which was adopted by the Senate, the TSA has three months from passage of the bill to implement an armed-pilot training program. Once completed, the pilots will be designated “federal flight deck officers.”

Also this week, the TSA has completed its takeover of on-site airport security, replacing private-sector personnel with federal employees at all of the nation’s 429 commercial airports, but critics say they don’t believe much has changed.

Kelly McCann, managing director of Kroll’s Protective Services and Training Group in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday the federal screening workforce is still missing what he called “a critical element.”

“They’ve been well-trained on the machines. They’ve been trained to be courteous. They’ve been trained to more properly handle the traveling public,” he told “But, I’ve been traveling recently, and I haven’t seen any situation where they ask you anything different than they used to.”

McCann says screeners must know how to ask specific questions designed to root out passengers with unwelcome intentions.

“[These are] questions that are designed to evoke a response that is observable and then, based on the manifestation when you ask the question, that learned questioner decides whether you should pass on through the line or get pulled out of the line and asked other evocative questions to see what [happens],” he said.

“I don’t think we’re a hell of a lot safer than we were before,” added Charles Slepian, head of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, a New York think tank addressing issues of traveler safety. “I think they’re to be congratulated for pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”

“Last July, they had virtually no federal employees and, by hiring 3,300 people a month since July, they were able to meet their requirement of 44,000,” he said, noting that the 40 hours of training given to the federal screeners is wholly inadequate.

“That’s a week’s worth of training in such things as detecting bombs, doing a limited amount of profiling of passengers, knowing how to go through carry-on bags properly,” said Slepian.

Lambert said he hadn’t noticed much difference in the way federal personnel screen passengers, except to say “they seem to be more polite as they ask you to disrobe for them.”

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