By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The November law that authorized pilots to carry guns in the cockpit and gave the Transportation Security Administration oversight over the training program omitted cargo pilots.
That omission will be front and center today at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport as part of a nationwide push by some pilots and legislators to highlight what they say are deficiencies in the current program.
"In order to better protect the American people, Congress must act quickly to ensure that cargo pilots can participate in the new program, and the TSA must accelerate the (arming pilots) program so more armed pilots can secure the skies and general public," said U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who has proposed legislation that would lift the ban on cargo pilots.
Bunning plans to press the issue along with several other pilots today at the local airport, while other pilots will be holding similar events at several major airports nationally to discuss what they see as additional problems.
But the cargo issue remains a major one for this region, which includes four major air freight hubs in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, including the main domestic hub for DHL Worldwide Express at the Cincinnati airport.
"We operate some of the largest airlines in the world, and the planes are just as big and carry just as much fuel as a passenger airliner," said Leon Laylagian, a Louisville-based cargo pilot who flies a Boeing 767. "And we don't have ... a group of determined passengers to help stop a potential attack."
TSA officials say they would welcome cargo pilots into the program, but only if Congress allows them to participate. There are about 12,000 such cargo pilots nationally, including 497 based here flying for Astar Air Cargo, formerly known as DHL Airways.
As for the other complaints, some pilots say the TSA is trying to make the program fail because it was against the idea of arming pilots to begin with.
Bob Lambert, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, says that the application process is flawed and the agency is taking too long to train pilots.
The TSA is spending about $8 million for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 31, on the fledgling program. The Bush administration has requested another $25 million for next year and is moving the training facility from rural Georgia to New Mexico.
"It's time for a reality check," said TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. "This program did not exist six months ago, and now we've moved forward. Our commitment to this is very strong."
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