The collective cry from commercial pilots that they be given a way to fight back against would-be hijackers is a completely understandable response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, their proposal that pilots be allowed to carry guns in order to do is not the right answer.
Earlier this week the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 67,000 members, presented their plan to Congress. The group wants pilots, on a volunteer basis, to be trained to use guns to defend against hijackers in order to prevent a repeat of the four hijacked airliners. Three of the planes were crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killing almost 7,000 people.
The early response from members of Congress was that of skepticism -- and rightly so. The proposal is fraught with problems, but most notably the fact that in a hijacking situation the pilots' first obligation is to get the plane safely on the ground. What we learned from Sept. 11 is that our enemies are more than willing to use passenger aircraft as weapons against us. By landing the plane, the pilot effectively takes away the terrorists' weapon.
As Congress moves forward with improved airline safety measures, the first order of business should be requiring that the cockpit doors remain shut in flight, and that they are stout enough to withstand serious force.
Pilots should be required to remain in the cockpit regardless of what is going on in the cabin -- they should not do double-duty as pilots and police. That job should be left to trained federal air marshals, which Congress has indicated will be a likely result of the attacks.
The pilots' resolve to fight back is admirable -- they want to protect their passengers, innocent people on the ground and themselves. But we must remember that the best way to prevent terrorist attacks via commercial airliners is having pilots who are able to get those planes out of the sky and safely landed.
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