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US Congress Debates Airline Security - 2001-09-25

In the wake of the hijackings that led to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon earlier this month, the U.S. Congress is considering ways to boost airline security. On Tuesday, lawmakers heard proposals from airline pilots and industry officials.

The head of the nation's largest pilots union joined airline and airport officials in appealing to lawmakers for tougher passenger and baggage screening procedures and steps to boost security on aircraft.

At a House transportation subcommittee hearing, airline officials called for more inspectors at airports and for U.S. marshals to fly on commercial flights.

Captain Duane Woerth, president of the Airline Pilots Association, said he would like to see improvements in cockpit security - including cockpit doors that lock from the inside.

He also backed a controversial proposal to arm pilots with stun guns, using ammunition that would not harm the aircraft.

"They're called frangible bullets," he explained. " They basically disintegrate upon impact with the target, and they are not likely to penetrate the fuselage or cause a rapid depressurization."

Some lawmakers oppose allowing pilots to carry guns, fearing the weapons could get into the hands of terrorists.

"I think a better answer is to fortify the doors, unenterable doors, that are steel, to seal off the cockpit," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said. "I do not think we need pilots trying to be security officers and pilots. I think they have enough to do to get the plane to safety, and if we can secure their space, they do not have to worry about that, then I think we largely solved the problems of terrorists using planes as weapons of mass destruction."

James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, said responsibility for boosting airline security should be on the government, not on the industry.

The federal government should provide financial support for all mandated safety requirements, including reinforcement of cockpit doors, enhancement of screening devices, along with improved flight deck integrity measures," said Mr. Coyne.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is expected to send Congress a package of proposals to enhance airline and airport security later this week.