A nagging sense of worry is felt by many airline passengers these days every time they board a flight. Not even the heightened security precautions that are part of the post-9/11 check-in process completely erase concerns that someone on board may be a terrorist.
The fact that a federal sky marshal or two may be aboard is comforting -- but that's offset by the knowledge that there aren't enough of these armed agents to go around. Most flights, we all can assume, are unprotected by someone riding shotgun to ward off the bad guys.
The solution to making everybody more confident that they won't become a party to a hijacking is to allow airline pilots to carry handguns to defend their planes and their passengers.
Alaska Congressman Don Young is a leading proponent of this. He's a major sponsor of a bill in the House designed to counter risks raised by the terrible events of last Sept. 11, when four airliners were commandeered by terrorists and changed forever the way Americans feel about air travel.
Young's bill, cosponsored by Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, is called the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act -- a rather clumsy title for a piece of legislation, but nonetheless one that makes absolutely clear its purpose.
Capt. Stephen Luckey, speaking for the Air Line Pilots Association, strongly endorsed the bill in testimony last week before the House Aviation subcommittee. Said Luckey:
''More than 3,000 people were murdered, billions of dollars of property damage was incurred, the nation's economy was rocked and is still suffering, thousands of people were laid off, and billions of dollars of new spending will be allocated to security both in this country and around the globe for years to come -- all because eight pilots were killed.''
He and the ALPA were not alone in endorsing the measure. Prior to the hearing, a petition carrying more than 40,000 signatures in its support came from the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance.
Under terms of the Young-Mica bill, a pilot would have to undergo appropriate training and pass a comprehensive background check before he or she would be permitted to carry a handgun in the cockpit.
Luckey made a sound argument for the bill when he said:
''It is obvious, or should be, that protecting the flight deck and its occupants against hijackers is now tantamount to protecting our national economy.''
Not to mention, of course, the passengers aboard every flight.
Knowing the captain and first officer are armed would go a long way toward easing anyone's concern about becoming a victim of a hijacking.
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