The American Homeland Security Act contains a provision to arm pilots of commercial airlines and gives the deputy pilot the authority to use lethal force in protecting the flight deck against terrorism and other criminal threats. This act was later extended to include the cargo pilots as well. During the debate over the law, the opponents viewed such program as risky and expensive and outweighed the potential benefits suggested (Thurman 48). The proponents, on the other hand, saw the potential benefits of thwarting criminal acts outweighing the presumed risks associated with arming the pilots. In the wake of the September.11 attacks, where four airline cockpits were invaded and taken over by hijackers, the pilots pushed for arming their being armed. Their supporters suggest that an armed pilot could quickly dispatch the perpetrator in the event of hijacking. However, their quest did not flow smoothly (Aviation Week & Space Technology 86).
The Transportation Secretary and the Homeland Security Director, opposed the idea whereas, other airline personnel called for the use of non-lethal weapons such as stun guns. The opponents urged that allowing pilots to carry firearms is an extreme measure not to be undertaken lightly. They maintain that pilots have been protected by reinforced cockpit doors, to add on, the state is taking a move to increase the number of armed marshals aboard the commercial fight. Cabinet attendants rejected the idea of arming pilots if they do not have access to any weapon. They were not convicted whether an armed pilot could thwart terrorists and save hundreds of lives in case such circumstances arise. Magaw deliberately decided to ignore the Pilots Association’s petition, which had asked the state to allow pilots who have passed firearm training to carry weapons (Aviation Week & Space Technology 87).
The VPC gave a statement to oppose arming of the pilots. According to him and many other opponents, the contemplating terrorism will be aware of the possession of a gun by the pilot and will always plot a surprise. In their view, charging defense task to a pilot who is already engaged may lead to an event with disastrous consequences (Thurman 48). Some cases have been reported where highly trained law enforcers often have their weapons turned against them by the culprits. Sometimes, the police make grave mistakes in deciding when a deadly force is justified. They maintained that many handguns can fire when bumped or dropped whereas others are prone to fire with very light pressure on the trigger. The VPC argued that a single unintentional fall fires may injure or kill a fellow pilot or other flight crew member, destroy the key controls, or even pierce the jetliner’s hull. He further suggested alternative methods as having armed trained air marshal whose duty will be limited only to protecting the safety of the people on board (Aviation Week & Space Technology 87).
The California liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer came out in favor of allowing pilots to carry guns even if the administration opposed it. She observed that both terrorists and criminals prefer to attack unarmed people. It is further noted that, the communities that have passed laws permitting any law-abiding citizen to carry gun usually have an immediate decline in crimes. Taking an example of a mass killer shooting in places with unarmed civilians, they stop as soon as they encounter an armed person. The period after the destruction of the World Trade Center altered the prism through which airline security was viewed. It became no longer efficient to worry about the safety of the members of the crew and the passengers on board. In my opinion, it is necessary to approach the attackers with aggressiveness in a terrorism situation, rather to quest to the demands of the criminals (Thurman 48).
The responsibility and the training given to an individual who operates an eighty million dollars aircraft, with over 200 passengers are significant. Such person should be able to carry a firearm. For instance, looking at United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in the Western Pennsylvania, the attackers only had box cutters when they overpowered the crew members. Had the pilots been armed, they could have foiled the plot and saved thousands of innocent lives. An aircraft renders a soft target to potential terrorist and therefore strengthening security without hardening the target could make a plane an attractive target for terrorists. Giving pilots special training and equipping them with carefully chosen firearms is the most inexpensive, effective and simplest way of hardening the airliner target (Las Vegas Review – Journal 1).
Since 1970, passengers have been screened to ensure no weapons are brought into the aircraft. This guarantees the terrorists that if they can manage to bring their weapon in the aircraft, then they will be the only ones carrying firearms. In a terrorist attack, this condition assists them to swiftly take command of the airliner. Security is a subject to improvement and even the best security has limitations. Pilots are among the most highly trained professionals and carefully screened. They are procedure-oriented, and most gone through military training. They are level headed, dedicated to safety, stable and always willing to embrace their responsibility to the passengers. The pilots can quickly make critical decisions (Thurman 48).
Looking at the safety records of the airline travel, is an evidence of how well the pilots can perform under life and dead situations. In addition, no one can better judge if the use of a firearm is prudent or is aware of the consequences of an in-flight firearm discharge than the controls and the pilots. It is therefore out of logic not to trust the pilots with guns in order to defend their passengers (Las Vegas Review – Journal 2). Getting deeper into the view that arming the pilot could worsen the hijacking situation, a terrorist has control of the aircraft if he is the only one with a firearm. If he manages to take the pilots firearm, he will still be the one in control of the aircraft hence the situation has not worsen. Moreover, it would be very difficult to disarm a trained pilot since he will be locked in the cockpit and would presumably forewarn by the loud attempts to break down the door (Aviation Week & Space Technology 88).
Some opponents have suggested that the problem can be solved by strengthening the cockpit door. As much as the doors need to be strengthened, there is a limit on how thick and strong a door can be. In designing the door, a consideration should also be made to the pilot’s rescue in case of an accident. It is important to notice that a determined attacker would break even the heaviest door. In my opinion, the strengthened doors will work hand in hand with the armed pilots.
Finally, by simply publicizing the idea that pilots on board are armed, the likely hood of similar attacks as of September 11will me minimized. Arming pilots also puts them in an upper hand to prevent the terrorists from taking control of the aircraft. In my opinion, I agree with the view that guns on board should be the duty of a professional marshal, however, the limited resources may never allow for the provision of a marshal on every flight. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the officer will not be overwhelmed by the trained attackers. It is only by entering the cockpit can the attackers gain access to the pilots’ weapon (Las Vegas Review – Journal 3).
In conclusion, firearm and airplane could be a dangerous mix. However, it is better to have armed pilots on board. The otherwise would be to order a military plane to shoot down an airliner full of innocent people because a plane has because attacked by terrorists who are ready to repeat. In my opinion, the major reason for the pilots to possess the guns is for self-defense. The opponents had many other proposals to improve security that in my view, are more controversial than arming the pilots. Most of them had visions from movies of pilots and terrorists who are shooting in the aisle of the plane that is not the case. The cockpit must be protected, and the pilots must play a crucial role in protecting their area of work.
"Armed Pilots would Supplement Security." Aviation Week & Space Technology 155.17 (2001): 86,86,65.
"EDITORIAL: The Pilots should be Armed." Las Vegas Review - Journal: 10B. Sep 26 2001. Pp. 1-3
Thurman, Russ. "Arming American's Airline Pilots Not a Simple Task." The Shooting Industry 47.10 (2002): 48.