Arming of Pilots
Is Way Overdue
By John R. Lott Jr.
Today, 1 1/2
years after 9/11, the first class of 48 commercial pilots
finally starts training to carry guns on airplanes. Unfortunately,
the Bush administration's rules for screening and training
pilots mean few will qualify. Our air travel system is still
very vulnerable to hijacking, and quick measures need to
Consider the following:
* Pilot unions report that although one-third of the flights
out of Reagan National have air marshals, the level is close
to 1% for Baltimore-Washington International Airport flights
and essentially zero over most of the rest of the country.
* The newest
generation of reinforced cockpit doors has just been put
in place, but few experts have much faith in their effectiveness.
Last summer, on a bet, a cleaning crew rammed a drink cart
into one of the new doors on a United plane. The door reportedly
broke off its hinges.
* No tests
of airport screening have been made public since the government
took over screening last fall, but, in private meetings,
the Transportation Security Administration acknowledges
there are a wide range of undetectable lethal weapons.
unfortunately views armed pilots as a problem, not as a
last layer of security, and has done what it can to discourage
pilots from applying for the armed-pilot program. The incredibly
intrusive application form warns pilots that the information
obtained by the Transportation Security Administration is
"not limited to [the pilot's] academic, residential,
achievement, performance, attendance, disciplinary, employment
history, criminal history record information, and financial
and credit information." The information can be turned
over to the Federal Aviation Administration and used to
revoke a pilot's commercial license. As one pilot told me,
"The Transportation Security Administration is viewed
as hostile to pilots, and pilots are afraid that if they
are not viewed as competent for the [armed pilots] program,
they may be viewed as not competent to continue being pilots."
and psychological testing required of the pilots are also
much more extensive and intrusive than that required for
the vast majority of air marshals. Some questions even appear
designed to purposefully disqualify pilot applicants. For
example, pilots are asked whether they have ever "experienced
a loss of pay while working as a sworn [law enforcement
officer]." This is not an uncommon occurrence because
some pilots hold second jobs as law enforcement officers,
and changes in airline schedules often prevent them from
working as officers.
have to shoulder the financial burden of taking a week off
from work to obtain the necessary training to carry a gun.
They have been willing to bear these costs to protect lives
but have grown very reluctant when they see how the program
has been implemented.
More than 70%
of the pilots at major airlines have military backgrounds,
but the administration is still not in favor of arming pilots.
The government is considering allowing at most 650 pilots
to be trained between now and Oct. 1, when the fiscal year
ends. Over the Bush administration's opposition, Congress
has overwhelmingly passed legislation that a program be
set up to arm pilots.
realize that until the 1960s, commercial passenger pilots
on any flight carrying U.S. mail were required to carry
handguns; they were allowed to do so until 1987. Protecting
people should be as important as protecting the mail once
can hardly claim confidence that its screening, reinforced
doors and air marshals are enough. When we last went to
Code Orange alert, jet fighters were flying over New York
City and Washington, and surface-to-air missiles were set
up to shoot down a hijacked aircraft if necessary. The administration
continues to be more worried about pilots with guns than
about having to shoot down a passenger airplane.
April 14, 2003
John R. Lott Jr.,
a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
is the author of "The
Bias Against Guns" (Regnery, 2003).
Order this book today.
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