The last line of defense? Airline pilots may soon be carrying guns inside the cockpit. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation that approves the idea. The measure, which is an amendment to the Homeland Security Bill, also includes more security training for flight attendants. The House has already approved the same kind of legislation, and now both versions must be reconciled by a conference committee. The Bush administration says it will go along with the idea despite its earlier opposition, and is planning to begin a small test program first that would only arm about 2% of pilots.
This historic vote to arm pilots is seen by many as a step toward safer skies after September 11th. In recent polls, most Americans agree with arming pilots as long as pilots get extensive training. Thursday's action will allow pilots to carry a gun in the cockpit once they're trained and deputized. Supporters believe it will be a deterrent to terrorists. Those who oppose it say it's dangerous.
Tamara Stresau knows the airline industry well. She's been with Continental Airlines for more than 29 years now, and she thinks arming pilots is right on target. "They are highly intelligent individuals and extremely capable, and I really think having a gun in the cockpit would be a very safe measure. I have no problems with it whatsoever," says Stresau.
Thursday's amendment to the Homeland Security Bill will put thousands of pilots through a training course in marksmanship and teach them how to handle a gun on a plane. It's an idea that Larry Maurice, who just flew into Lubbock from California for the Cowboy Symposium, says makes him feel more at ease about flying. "Absolutely. It's been way, way overdue. You've got the captain of the ship who really doesn't have any authority. He's the last line of defense. Most of them have military backgrounds anyway, so handling firearms is something they're used to," says Maurice.
Many airlines also agree with arming pilots, as does the National Pilot Association. However, some airlines don't. Southwest Airlines gave NewsChannel 11 this statement Thursday:
"Southwest Airlines does not believe any weapon, lethal or non lethal, should be permitted in the cockpit. We feel it is incompatible, and would create an additional variable for flight crews to contend with."
Despite that point of view, it appears pilots will soon be armed, and most seem to think that's aiming in the right direction. "I think if they're trained, I'm for it. They're already in a pretty defenseless position. And personally, I would feel safer as a flyer," says Jeanne Larranaga of Dallas. "I remember when the skies were safe, and they need to be safe all the time. And if the solution is a gun in the hand of a pilot in the cockpit, so be it," says John Larranaga of Dallas.