Security in the skies

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Half of Transportation Secretary John Magaw's reasoning was sound: Pilots should be concentrating on flying their airliners, not dueling with hijackers.

However, the other half -- that the pilots shouldn't be armed -- leaves us with more questions than answers.

The first question: Why shouldn't they be armed? We're not expecting them to defend the entire airplane, but we do expect them to be able to defend the cockpit.

If their primary mission is to get the plane safely on the ground, the only obstacle would be a hijacker who manages to get past secured cockpit doors. Should a hijacker make it that far and the pilots are weaponless, the game is over.

What would be the greatest deterrent to a hijacker even attempting to break through the cockpit door? Armed pilots on the other side.

The next question: What air marshals?

Magaw told a Senate committee that air marshals are better equipped to handle the particularly dangerous situation of having a gun aboard an airliner.

That may be true, but air marshals are few and far between. The odds may be very small any particular flight would be hijacked, and the odds are infinitisimal an air marshal would happen to be aboard.

On the off chance there is an air marshal on board during a hijacking, the possibility exists the marshal would be overpowered and the hijacker(s) ends up with the gun. At that point, wouldn't we still prefer to have armed pilots up front?

Another question: What about stun guns?

Stun guns should be available to flight attendants in the cabin. They would be a first line of defense against hijackers, and they would be useful in many more situations.

Flight attendants are far more likely to have to deal with combative passengers than hijackers. In some highly publicized incidents, they have been left with no choice but to rely on other passengers to come to their aid when it becomes a free-for-all in the aisle.

We expect pilots and flight attendants to provide us with some sense of security in the sky. Let's give them the same, legal means they would have on the ground.


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