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Boeing Examines Airplane Safety - 2001-09-25

Passenger airplane maker Boeing Corporation says it is working with the federal government to come up with ways to make planes safer, and help people feel less nervous about flying. The nation's airlines have seen a sharp drop-off in passengers since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The head of Chicago-based Boeing Corporation, Phil Condit, says taking a commercial flight is as safe as it has ever been. "Right now, I think, is an incredibly safe time to fly," Mr. Condit said. "I do not think there is a problem. I have no doubts whatsoever about flying."

But since four airliners were hijacked September 11 and used to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many Americans have been staying away from air travel. Airlines have cut schedules by 20 percent and are still often flying half-empty planes.

Mr. Condit says his company is part of a federal task force looking for short and long term ways to make planes more secure. That was the topic of a hearing before the House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee in Washington Tuesday. Air Line Pilots Association President Duane Woerth is among those suggesting armed pilots should be considered. "The cockpit must be defended and pilots must play a pivotal role in defending their place of work," he told lawmakers.

Boeing's Phil Condit said he would not offer an opinion on whether pilots should be armed, but says if armed pilots or guards are placed on commercial flights, there is no need to worry about what happens if a gunshot misses its target. "There is a lot of speculation and a lot of stuff that shows up in movies, but the fact is, an airplane is designed to be able to handle penetrations," Mr. Condit said.

Mr. Condit says some security measures can be done quickly, like putting deadbolt locks on cockpit doors, but he urges regulators to consider carefully balance the benefits with the consequences of any changes to aircraft. "The cockpit door does a whole bunch of things. You would like it to be secure when you want it to be secure, but, for example, if there is a crash or an emergency, you have to be able to get through it. You have to be able to get rescuers through it, you have to be able to get the flight crew out," he said.

Mr. Condit says his company expects production of new jets to be lower during the next two years, since airlines flying fewer passengers need fewer planes. He says after the 1991 Gulf War, it took about a year for passenger traffic to return to pre-war levels. Mr. Condit says that is why it is important to make planes more secure because he says there is no business for the industry if people do not feel safe flying.