Undersecretary John Magaw has announced that he will not permit pilots
to carry firearms in the cockpit. For decades, however, airline pilots
were armed with firearms without accident or incident. From the dawn
of commercial aviation until 1987, airline pilots carried firearms
in the cockpit.
Prior to 1987, airline pilots were not required to go through
screening checkpoints at airports, and an estimated 25 percent to
30 percent of them carried handguns for cockpit defense in their
flight bags. In a bizarre response to a 1987 cockpit takeover, in
which the pilots were murdered and the killer crashed the airplane
killing all on board, the Federal Aviation Administration began
requiring pilots to go through screening checkpoints to ensure that
they were not carrying any defensive weapons.
The September 11 attacks were the inevitable outcome of this indefensible
policy. We offered an ironclad promise to the terrorists that the
pilots were defenseless, and they gladly took advantage of our foolishness.
Since September 11, we have seen the frustrating, illogical and
ineffective results of reliance on our ability to keep weapons off
of airliners. Airline travel has become a maddening, degrading and
humiliating experience for many. Everyone knows that there are still
hundreds of ways to get deadly weapons on airliners. Just as we
did in 1987, we want to do everything except for that which is simple,
safe, logical and obvious. Defend the cockpit from within by arming
pilots with firearms.
The Transportation Security Administration has wasted no time
in becoming a bloated government bureaucracy. The billions allocated
to TSA by Congress are nearly gone and what do we have to show for
it? Well, plenty of elderly ladies and small children are being
searched at airports, federal air marshals are on a tiny fraction
of domestic flights, airport concourses are regularly evacuated
when the magnetometers are found to be unplugged, and the airline
industry is in an economic shambles.
In a recent report, we learned that qualifying standards for federal
air marshals have been reduced. Mr. Magaw responded that any law
enforcement is better than none. That may be true if you're trying
to increase the size of your taxpayer-funded boondoggle. Mr. Magaw
dreams of having the world's largest police force. Airline pilots
want real results and real security, and another unaccountable government
behemoth is not going to get us there.
Every airline pilot association in the country agrees on arming
airline pilots. The Airline Pilots' Security Alliance and other
pilot groups have developed detailed programs for screening, training
and arming volunteer airline pilots with firearms. We have briefed
countless executive branch groups on our program. Each program includes
screening and training in the safe handling and use of firearms
for cockpit defense. Each program states that no pilot would expect
additional compensation for participation in the program.
Frustrated with the total lack of movement from the administration
on this common sense measure, all major pilot groups sent a letter
to President Bush on April 3 asking him to light a fire under the
people in his administration and get this done. Our response came
last week when Mr. Magaw cited 40 years of law-enforcement experience
and decided that pilots don't need guns to defend their passengers
and crew. Mr. Magaw, who is clueless about what is involved in flying
an airliner, is concerned that the pilots will become distracted
from flying if they are armed. Well!
Unlike Mr. Magaw, I have been flying airliners for years, and
I can tell him with certainty that I will not be able to concentrate
on flying after terrorists break into my cockpit, kill me and use
my airplane and its passengers as a guided bomb. Mr. Magaw's arrogant
assertions are ridiculous and would be laughable if the lives of
my passengers did not hang in the balance.
For years, airline pilots begged for stun guns to defend against
drunken passengers overcome with "air rage." A stun guns is a great
weapon if you're trying to defend your cockpit against an angry
drunk. Now, the angry drunk seems like a trip down nostalgia lane
- compared to the teams of trained, suicidal killers threatening
our airliners - but the airlines and the Department of Transportation
seem to be poised to give us stun guns to defend against yesterday's
threat. Every law-enforcement agency in the country (including the
federal air marshals who carry firearms on board) knows that
stun guns will never work against the multiple-attacker terrorist
scenario of September 11.
The horrific attacks of September 11 were insufficient motivation
to move the administration away from the timid politics of moderation
and restraint. There is only one way into the cockpit and that is
through a narrow door, and therefore, taking control of the cockpit
of an airliner manned by trained pilots armed with handguns would
be virtually impossible. In short, if airline pilots are armed,
the chances of future attempts at a September 11-style attacks are
virtually nil. If pilots are not armed, terrorists will probably
(correctly) judge that they could again succeed in using airliners
as a weapon.
A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen are moving forward
with legislation that would take the issue of arming pilots out
of the hands of the administration. Pray that these good men are
able to complete their work faster than the terrorists who prepare
to repeat their efforts.