Re-examining itself, FAA considers arming pilots
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is "challenging every assumption" on which the agency has ever operated and is considering numerous safety improvements, including equipping pilots with handguns, the agency's administrator said Monday.
The terrorist attacks September 11 changed aviation officials' outlook, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said.
"This is a very new world that we are in," she said. "No one could imagine someone being willing to commit suicide, being willing to use an airplane as a lethal weapon. So we are re-examining every procedure we have in place."
Speaking to reporters at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Garvey said the FAA has already implemented several safety measures in light of the attacks that began with the hijacking of four airliners.
The FAA, she said, asked airlines and airports:
-- To re-examine all their employees to see if any names match those on an FBI "watch list" of people who might have information about the terrorist attacks
-- To make sure that people who have badges to secure areas "are actually who they are supposed to be"
-- To run "more background checks" on employees
Another measure under consideration: equipping pilots with handguns. The Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilots' union with 66,000 members in 47 U.S. and Canadian carriers, is seeking congressional approval to carry guns into cockpits.
"That is an idea that probably two weeks ago I would not even have considered. But ... we are challenging every assumption," said Garvey. "Our principal goal is to make sure that the passenger is safe and secure, the flight crew is safe and secure. And that is an idea that we are absolutely willing to look at."
Union officials said pilots should receive extensive classroom and firearms training to become actual law enforcement officials, with training to be done on a voluntary basis.
Congress, FBI watching
Arizona Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which considers airline security issues, says it is still to early to show Congress will respond to the proposal to allow pilots to carry firearms.
"We've got to hear form the Justice Department, call in the experts, before we take such a step," he said. "But I would be guided by the experts' view."
The FBI says it is considering the proposal.
The FAA has implemented a fast-track training program to get federal air marshals on flights and an "extraordinary number" of highly trained law enforcement officers have expressed an interest in the program, Garvey said.
"They are being deployed even as we speak," she said. "Every three days, there's a new group going into the system."
But the pilot's union said there aren't enough marshals to travel on every scheduled flight.
Garvey also said the FAA is seriously looking into getting secure doors for the cockpit -- a measure she said pilots had previously opposed because they wanted quick access to the cabin in case they needed medical help for a fellow pilot.
In addition, she said the FAA is looking at whether the screening of aviation employees "should be federalized."
There are other safety measures that have been implemented, but she said she could not elaborate on them.
Garvey said she understands people are still concerned about the safety of air travel, but added: "I think with every increased security measure that we put in place ... that will improve as well."
William R. Decota, the director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who attended the news conference with Garvey, sought to reassure Americans that the skies are safe.
"People have asked me if I would travel. Of course, I would travel," he said. "More importantly, I would let my mother travel. Air travel is safe."
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