2002-10-10 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s

AttitudeArming Pilots May Lead To Gunfight In Cockpit Corral
By Neil S. Friedman

Arming Pilots May Lead To Gunfight In Cockpit Corral

There have been numerous strategies executed to bolster homeland security and shore up aviation safety since September 11, 2001. The measures already implemented are functional and prudent. Some, still to be implemented, seem sensible, while others appear to be scattershot solutions.

One of the worst ideas is to arm those who fly American passenger planes with pistols. It’s just plain Dumb — with a capital D that stands for dangerous.

Last month the Senate approved legislation to arm the nation’s 85,000 pilots. The House of Representatives okayed a similar bill in July. Specific details, including how to train pilots, how weapons will be transported between flights and, last but not least, how to fund this program, have yet to be worked out. Both proposals are part of larger homeland security legislation currently being debated in the Senate.

The Airline Pilots Association, which supports arming its members, estimated the startup expenditures could be somewhere in the costly neighborhood of $100 million, which likely will be passed on to the flying public.

The White House, which is ready to employ our big guns to take on Iraq, originally rejected the armed-pilots notion, but after intense lobbying efforts from advocates, the Bush administration caved in, though it still claims to have reservations about certain aspects of the proposal.

It should be noted that the airlines and safety advocates strongly object to arming captains of the sky, as does the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

So, we must ask, if there’s all this uncertainty and hedging, why is Congress so gun-ho (sic) over such a risky plan?

I’ll tell you in four words — it’s an election year!

Lawmakers are using the prevailing atmosphere of anxiety that evolved after that shocking September morning 14 months ago. Regrettably, the latest poll indicates that 51 percent of frontier-mentality Americans, who own more guns than cars and pets combined, think pilots should carry guns.

The National Rifle Association, the influential, deep-pocketed gun lobby, must be ecstatic. Its officials and members heavily lobbied Congress, as well as the White House, for support. The efforts, no doubt including tacit pledges of future campaign contributions, appear to have worked. Actor Charlton Heston, the gun group’s president and high-profile spokesperson, must be walking on water, a feat he never achieved on film, despite portraying almost godlike characters in several Hollywood biblical epics.

While it’s vital that our national and international defenses remain vigilant and the citizenry stay alert to their surroundings, in the long run arming pilots may cause more harm than benefit.

In a worst case scenario, what would happen if a stray bullet, fired by a defending pilot or a fanatical terrorist seeking martyrdom, hits sensitive aircraft systems or creates a gaping hole in the thin fuselage? And what if a wayward bullet strikes a passenger or two or three or…? If the aircraft goes out of control during an armed confrontation, might it crash into a heavily populated area causing even more destruction and loss of life than even the madman intended?

Admittedly, these far fetched, "what-if" situations are more suited to popular fiction and movie scripts than reality, but so were the collapse of the Twin Towers and the attack on the Pentagon.

Flying state-of-the-art aircraft demands unqualified concentration and monitoring. In an emergency, if a pilot, wrapped up in flying his plane, has to divert that attention to thwart armed aggressors, it could have dire results.

Airline safety should be an ongoing mission that is constantly monitored, maintained and enhanced. The last thing needed on a jet traveling hundreds of miles an hour, soaring thousands of feet above in the unfriendly skies is a gunfight in the Cockpit Corral.

Return to top

Copyright© 2000 - 2017
Canarsie Courier Publications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved