Pilots Fear More Hijackings, Want Guns

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Some airline pilots believe terrorists are laying the groundwork for another wave of hijackings and they want to have guns in the cockpit as soon as possible. In a recent letter, Capt. Scott R. Lewis, director of the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance, said airliner crews and federal air marshals have noticed a series of events that he interprets as an organized intelligence-gathering mission on airliner security. Lewis says passengers sometimes try cockpit door locks, pretend to rush the cockpit in flight and even change into battle fatigues during the flight -- all the while looking for reaction from federal air marshals. He said crews have noticed the activity escalating and many are worried another attack is imminent. Lewis said armed flight crews are the second-to-last defense (ahead of military jets) against suicide terrorists and it's imperative that pilots are armed sooner rather than later. The federal government is poised to pass the Homeland Security Bill this week, which will legalize pistol-packing pilots, but the Transportation Security Administration has up to three months after the bill's passage to train pilots who want to pack.

There are also concerns that there aren't enough facilities to train the more than 30,000 pilots expected to volunteer to be armed. That figure might be a little lower, however, since the bill exempts cargo planes from having armed pilots. Some cargo pilots are furious about the last-minute change, which they say resulted from lobbying by big cargo-only carriers. Those who think cargo pilots and their aircraft don't present a risk might not remember what happened to Jim Tucker and his fellow crewmates -- and what almost happened in Memphis -- on April 7, 1994. There are those who might argue if we had then learned our lesson those years ago, Sept. 11, 2001, would have been a very different day, indeed.

NOTE: Captain Lewis' letter is available online in Adobe's Portable Document Format, free readers for which are available at Adobe's Web site.