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U.S. reconsidering arming of pilots

Mineta testified before a House subcommittee Tuesday.
Mineta testified before a House subcommittee Tuesday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Tuesday that allowing pilots to carry guns in the cockpit is "still under discussion within the administration."

"One of the things I've asked Admiral [James] Loy to do is to look at this in terms of should we be taking another approach in terms of lethal versus nonlethal," Mineta told the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

Loy, the former Coast Guard commandant, was named to replace Transportation Security Administration chief John Magaw, whom Mineta fired last week.

The consideration of guns for pilots marks a reversal at the Transportation Department. Two months ago the TSA -- under Magaw -- had ruled out guns for pilots.

The House passed a bill nearly two weeks ago allowing pilots to be armed. The Senate has yet to act.

"It is hard to believe that it has taken this long to change the thinking of some at DOT," said Tracey Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a pilot coalition backing guns in the cockpit.

"Airline pilots and the American people have recognized the necessity for armed pilots since we saw airliners being flown into buildings on September 11."

Mineta and others in the Bush administration have said in the past they are opposed to guns in the cockpit. Mineta also has expressed opposition to the current legislation that arms pilots on a voluntary basis. But he said he would look at alternatives.

Mineta said it would cost $860 million to set up a program to arm pilots with lethal weapons and another $250 million every year to do quarterly retraining of pilots.

The Transportation Department is also considering nonlethal alternatives, including stun guns and Tasers. Even though it doesn't have final approval for use of Tasers, United Airlines is training its pilots to use them.

Mineta also said the TSA has had to had to slash its planned payroll and borrow money as it tries to meet airport security deadlines (Full story).

Four months ago, President Bush asked Congress for a $4 billion supplemental appropriation for the TSA, but $1 billion was cut from that amount last week by a House and Senate negotiating committee, Mineta told the subcommittee.




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