Sunday, April 20, 2003

Many wary of pilots with guns



By Leslie Miller
The Associated Press

GLYNCO, Ga. - There is a minuscule chance, beginning today, that a pilot on a commercial flight may be carrying a gun. Some air travelers say even those odds are cause for worry. Others say they will feel safer if there's an armed pilot on board.

Saturday was graduation day for the first 44 pilots in a course at a federal law enforcement training center. Additional pilots will complete their training in the weeks to come - meaning a gradual increase in the number of gun-toting pilots in airliner cockpits.

The pilots went through a week of classes, tests, drills and target practice required before they could be sworn in as federal flight-deck officers.

Cafe owner Peter Fragale of Jacksonville, Fla., thinks arming pilots is a good idea.

"They make me feel better," he said as he waited at Jacksonville International Airport for a flight to Atlanta. "They should all have guns. It's that last layer, that last-resort layer, in case the terrorists get through all this security," he said. "And they will."

Art teacher Mary Ellen Binz, returning to Lake Mills, Wis., said arming pilots makes her nervous.

"It'll get in the hands of the wrong person," she said.

Polls have shown that more than 70 percent of pilots favor the right to be armed. After 9-11, pilots' unions lobbied for permission to carry guns in the cockpit. Opposing the idea were the White House and the airlines.

Graduates are required to tell their employers they have been certified to carry a gun 24 hours after they finish training. They do not have to take a weapon with them every time they fly, but they do have to inform airlines and the flight crew when they do. Passengers are not supposed to know whether a pilot is armed.

More pilots are to be trained this summer, though the size of the group is uncertain.

As many as one in three U.S. pilots - about 30,000 - could be carrying weapons on the flight deck in five years.




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