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"FAA Wants Public Opinion on Arming Pilots"

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

FAA Wants Public Opinion on Arming Pilots
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
Fox News

Now that politicians and lobbyists have had their say on arming airline
pilots, it's the public's turn.

The FAA is asking for public comment about authorizing on-duty pilots to
carry firearms in flight - a post-Sept. 11 issue incorporated into the new
federal air travel security law that passed in November.

"We need to decide whether it's safe, reasonable, optimal, or whether there
is some other thing we need to be doing," said Rebecca Trexler, a
spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration. "Do we want dangerous
or less-than-lethal weapons on an airplane? There are lots of reasons for
and against it, and we have to look at all of that."

After much discussion and negotiation, Congress passed the expansive
Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) in November; it took effect
last month. One section authorizes commercial jet pilots to keep firearms
with them in the cockpit - but only if the following four conditions are

The national Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was intricately involved in
how the armed- pilots passage, Section 128 of the act, was worded.

"The legislation, we think, was adequate," said ALPA spokesman John Mazor.
"We proposed arming airline pilots on a limited, selective basis. We think
that's a necessary component that does have its place in a series of
defenses against terrorist hijackers."

Mazor said the union's only remaining concern is the requirement for air
carrier approval.

"Some airlines are indicating they're not going to permit it on their
operation and that's unfortunate," he said. The union fears that if some
airlines opt out, the effectiveness of the measure would weaken.

But though it's snagged a place on the books, the new law is still causing a

While they're glad that pilots have been authorized to carry handguns,
pro-firearm groups like Gun Owners of America argue the law's language is

GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt said that pilots' unions have gotten
involved at the local level, threatening to walk unless they're armed when
they commandeer a passenger plane.

"We hope they're going to end up having pilots trained and authorized to be
carrying guns in the cockpit," Pratt said. "We think it's safer if pilots
keep guns with them while on duty - make them federal law enforcement
agents, at least to and from work."

GOA even goes a step further, lobbying that passengers with concealed
weapons permits be allowed to take guns with them on planes.

Gun control advocates like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence are
strongly opposed to the armed-passenger idea, and say pilots shouldn't be
toting guns either.

"We don't believe arming pilots is the best course of action," said Brady
Campaign spokeswoman Amy Stilwell. "Improving airline security and
preventing weapons from getting on aircraft is the best course of action.
Folks with weapons shouldn't be getting on airplanes in the first place."

The organization is worried that guns onboard could wind up in the wrong
hands or even damage the plane.

"We have serious concerns about arming pilots: Could it compromise the
integrity of the aircraft itself? When would pilots be authorized to use
guns?" Stilwell said.

GOA claims that a handgun isn't likely to do significant damage to a
passenger jet, even if errant shots are fired.

"The plane is not going to go down if a bullet goes through the skin of the
plane," Pratt said. "A smaller airliner could lose two windows and still
continue to control pressurization."

The pilots' union insists guns would only be used by the captain and
co-pilot if terrorist hijackers manage to penetrate the cockpit doors, which
the FAA now requires be closed and locked in flight.

The public comment period ends Feb. 14. People can voice their opinions by
logging onto the FAA's Web site and accessing the Federal Register on the
armed-pilots issue.


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