Arming Pilots & Security

A1FlyBoy

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LA Times Headlines

By JOHN R. LOTT Jr., John R. Lott Jr. is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

His timing wasn't the best.

The morning after U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced that he opposed letting airline pilots have guns to guard their cockpits--though he might consider stun guns--the Washington Post reported "a declining number of federal air marshals are aboard flights using Reagan National Airport."

Despite repeated promises that all flights into the capital, with its many vulnerable targets, would be guarded, pilots say the true number is "quite a bit less than 100%" and falling. Worse, while the exact number of marshals has not been made public, the same news report claimed that there were fewer than 1,000 across the nation, and only a fraction of those were available on any given day. With most marshals apparently working in pairs, less than 1% of the 35,000 daily commercial flights in the U.S. are being protected--hardly what we had hoped for six months after Sept. 11.

With increased preflight screening and passenger awareness, it may be harder today for terrorists to take over a plane. But the reward for terrorists also would be higher. Another successful attack would destroy confidence in air travel. The airlines still are suffering massive losses. And while Mineta's decision to rely on screening passengers, strengthened cockpit doors and air marshals to prevent terrorism is a good start, it is not enough.

Inspections are hardly perfect. Again, the day after Mineta's announcement, security was breached at Connecticut's Bradley International Airport, forcing a plane in mid-flight to return to the airport and have its passengers sent through metal detectors a second time.

In recent weeks, knives, box cutters and long scissors have regularly made it through security. As accused shoe bomber Richard C. Reid demonstrated in December, tiny amounts of military explosives such as C4 are easy to hide.

When screening fails, armed marshals can help prevent hijackings. Bill Landes at the University of Chicago found that between a third and half of the drop in airplane hijackings during the 1970s could be attributed to two factors: the introduction of armed U.S. marshals on planes and the increased ability to catch and punish hijackers.

But the process of recruiting enough marshals is slow and expensive.

The marshals program would cost $10 billion per year and "require a work force the size of the U.S. Marine Corps" to cover most planes, according to the pilots' unions. Not only does it take a long time to attract and train enough new marshals, but the program has had a problem with retention. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, marshals are finding the job incredibly boring as they fly back and forth across the country, waiting for something to happen.

And the marshals program doesn't guarantee safety. Osama bin Laden's organization was able to put five hijackers on each of three planes and four on a fourth. With enough hijackers on a plane, they could overpower two marshals.

Nor does strengthening cockpit doors guarantee safety. Doors can be blown open. Security can be breached, and terrorists could get the keys or codes used to open the doors.

So what else can be done? One choice is to arm pilots as a last line of defense. Their job is not to police the entire airplane but the much more limited and relatively simple task of defending a single narrow entrance to keep terrorists out of the cockpit.

Of the two pilots unions, 83% of the Allied Pilots Assn. and 73% of the Air Line Pilots Assn. support arming pilots. Seventy-eight percent of the nonunionized Southwest Airlines Pilots' Assn. feel the same way. More than 70% of the pilots at the major airlines have served in the military and are familiar with guns. They know more about their planes than the marshals.

All three pilots groups have agreed to training programs before being armed.

Stun guns are not a serious alternative. The New York Police Department found that stun guns fail to fell suspects 30% of the time because of thick clothing or rubberized shoes. Fears of bullets piercing the airplane's skin and causing it to lose pressure are misplaced. Specialized bullets are designed not to penetrate the airplane's aluminum skin. And even if a regular bullet penetrated the skin, there is unlikely to be any noticeable change; an air outlet at the back of the plane, which draws the air through the cabin, would automatically shrink to a smaller size to compensate.

Banning guns does not ban violence. It is the law-abiding citizens who obey these rules, not the terrorists.
 

skydiverdriver

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Airline cabins are the most heavily regulated anti-gun locations in the world, and a few determined men armed with little knives easily took them over on 9/11. It's time to arm pilots, and it needs to be quick. Even if it was approved today, it would take months to get the registration and training into place. The law was passed by congress, and the president signed it. We need to get this done now.
 

ksu_aviator

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I was completely against the idea at first. The John Wayne wanna be's where so admit they gave little thought to the consequences. Now people are thinking more rationally and I'm more for the idea, but it still has problems.

First, if one crew member is armed, the second (and third in some cases) must also be armed. This does not include the Flight Attendant. The terrorists where so determined and spent so much time in America planning these attacks they could just as easily find a way to work for an airline as a pilot. Therefore, I feel that all or none of the crewmembers should be armed.

Second, as a long time gun user, I am strictly opposed to carrying any weapon that has a bullet in the chamber. Even if its "locked and loaded" its still more dangerous than necessary. Any semi-automatic hand gun can be loaded (if a round is in the magizine) in a very short amount of time. Considering that doors are not as easy to bust through now, either pilot should have ample time to load and prepare to fire. Of course revolvers are suppose to be "safe" and my knowledge of them is limited so I'll leave that as an alternative.

Third, techniques are going to have to be taught to the pilots for shooting over their shoulder while seat belted (with the shoulder harnesses too) at a charging terrorist. I'm not saying that that is impossible, just that I don't know how I'd ever twist that far and shoot.

So before we go and arm ourselves, I hope these issues are better addressed.
 

JOHN LA HAYE

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KSU AVIATOR,
THE TERM LOCKED AND LOADED, REFERS TO THE 1911 COLT TYPE SINGLE ACTION AUTOO-LOADING PISTOLS.
ALSO REFERED TO AS CONDITION ONE, ROUND CHAMBERED SAFTEY ENGAUGED.
IT DOES NOT MEAN MAGAZINE INPLACE AND SAFTEY ON.

AS FAR AS A COCKPIT WEAPON GOES A DOUBLE ACKION REVOLVER MAYBE MUCH MORE SUITABLE. POINT AND CLICK AS IT WERE.

AND FINALLY, THE IDEA THAT MOST AIRLINE DRIVERS HAVE SOME TYPE OF MILITARY BACKGROUND SO THEY SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH FIREARMS, DOES NOT CARRY WATER.
NO DISRESPECT TO ANY OF THE MILITARY OFFICERS OR FORMER OFFICERS OUT THERE, BUT THE ONES THAT I HAD AS STUDENTS
AT CORONADO WERE NOT ALL THAT PROFICIENT WITH FIREARMS.
GREAT GUYS, BUT NONE WERE BAT MASTERSON REBORN.
 

Timebuilder

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If I'm in the cockpit, and a terrorist is attempting to take over the plane, I want that option...that last ditch option...to protect the plane and passengers.

Further, if I never make it to such a position I want those of you who WILL make it to have that option. If I'm just a gray-haired old man in the back, I'll at least try to trip the sucker as he runs up the isle.
 

prodigal

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profiling?

ksu_aviator,
Good point. I am totally in favor of arming flight crews. But your point about the possibility of terrorists having someone inside as a legitimate flight crew member is right on. I was told by a United pilot that one of their pilots of middle eastern descent just disappeared shortly after 9/11.
 

FR8mastr

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I agree 100% we need to be armed. This feel good sit around the campfire and sing happy songs approach to security is a joke. Almost as funny as united carrying stun guns, yea, that will stop them. As far a legit. crewmember being a terrorist, well if that was the case they would not need a gun, the crash ax would do just fine. I have tried shooting from a seated position from a simulated captains seat and had no problem eliminating the taget. (I am right handed) I shot with the left hand. Try it next time at the range, it works quite effectively at that close of a range. We can only hope common sense will overpower political correctness, and politicians with delusions of dictatorships and then be allowed to do our jobs and ensure the safety of our passengers as we are legally obligated to do.
 
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