Is Airline Travel Any Safer In America Today?

IN MEMORY

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One year ago, three commercial airline employees who reside in the Rim country agreed that developing a failsafe system of airline security would be a tall order.

"The bottom line is and anyone with common sense would realize this there's no security system that is airtight," Dan Anderson said. "Humans are going to make mistakes, equipment is going to fail, and it's going to happen."

According to the FAA's Mike Chittick, glitches and inconsistencies were to be expected as the industry tightened up its security measures.

"Unfortunately, it takes time to do that," he said.

"What's going to happen is, we won't see drastic improvements in a short time. It's going to take a long time, and that's just the way it is."

The FAA and nearly every government agency with a remote connection to the travel industry was weighing in with potential solutions including a request by the nation's largest pilots' union to allow its members to carry guns in the cockpit.

"Serious consideration should be given to arming the pilots with some kind of device," Anderson said, "but not something that could conceivably create more danger, such as a standard gun, where a single, badly aimed bullet could conceivably take down the entire airplane."

Pilot Dean Macnab was uncomfortable with the thought of guns and bullets of any sort "simply because of the confined space," he said. "If someone were to storm the cockpit, by the time you got the gun out, you'd be more likely to shoot yourself or the captain before you got to the assailant."

The airline professionals also had reservations about the suggestion of arming pilots with Taser-brand stun guns, which fire a wired dart which administers a paralyzing high voltage shock.

"Again, I don't know how effective that's going to be," he said. "The Taser requires that you shoot two electrodes into somebody's body, and it's only good for one shot," Macnab said. "So I don't think it's a great idea."

Neither did Anderson, who added that a person wearing a thick coat could defeat a Taser, and that each gun is capable of disabling a single person making it ineffective in multiple hijacker situations.

There were, however, two lines of defense endorsed by all three men.

One: "The flying public," Macnab said. "Everybody right now is very alert ... I really don't think that any of them would allow what happened to happen again."

Two: Upgraded cockpit doors.

"I think (that) will solve the problem ... (but some type of gun) would still need to be there (to) provide a sense of security."

Sept. 11, 2002

For one year, the nation's aviation security professionals have concentrated on keeping anything that looks remotely like a weapon off airplanes. Yet just last Thursday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to allow commercial pilots to carry weapons in the cockpit after the Bush administration dropped its opposition to the idea.

Still, the White House maintains that a number of safety and logistical issues need to be resolved, and recommends giving pilots lockboxes for the weapons so they won't be left in the cockpit. It also said only pilots who volunteer to carry weapons and receive extensive training should be armed.

Al Aitken, a pilot speaking for the 14,500-member union representing American Airlines pilots, which supports arming pilots, said the 87-6 vote meant the Senate recognized that all the security layers the administration is putting into place are still inadequate.

"The people who need the weapons as a last line of defense are the pilots. They're the only ones they're trying to keep the gun from," he said, adding that thousands of state and federal law enforcement officers travel on planes while armed.

Perhaps the most significant change in cockpit safety over the past year are the many initial critics of cockpit guns who are now embracing them. (The three pilots interviewed by the Roundup last year were unavailable for comment.)

One reason may have come last February, when an apparently disturbed man took only minutes to burst into the cockpit of a United Airlines jet after the airlines and the TSA had claimed reinforced doors would keep out hijackers. In that case, the pilot had to wield an emergency crash axe to stop the intruder.

Some, however, still believe even the best arguments for guns are not good enough, and many rank-and-file pilots contend that other changes, such as bulletproof cockpit doors (which are slated to be installed on all planes by April 9) and improving the passenger profiling system, would do more to boost security.

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