President Bush says the federal government is taking charge of airport security. The President announced a series of new security measures Thursday in response to this month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The President unveiled his plans for enhanced aviation security at a rally with families of airline workers at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Mr. Bush stood before a flag waving crowd framed by two passenger jets one from United Airlines and one from American Airlines, the two carriers whose jets were hijacked by terrorists September 11.
Mr. Bush encouraged Americans to return to air travel, saying the skies are now safe. Confidence fell sharply following the attacks with airlines now operating at about 80 percent of capacity. The President thanked airline workers for returning to the job, saying their dedication expresses a firm national commitment to reject the fear of terrorism. "That we will not surrender our freedom to travel, that we will not surrender our freedoms in America, that while you may think you have struck our soul, you have not touched it, that we are too strong a nation to be carried down by terrorist activities," the president said.
President Bush said the government will provide $500 million in grants to finance modifications to aircraft that would delay or deny access to the cockpit. He said there will be video cameras to show pilots what is happening in the cabin behind them and new aircraft transponders that can not be turned-off by attackers who want to make the plane invisible to air traffic controllers.
Mr. Bush said there will also be modifications allowing officials on the ground to land a plane by remote control if the crew loses command of the aircraft.
Mr. Bush said the federal government will now take charge of all airport security, including passenger and luggage screening. Federal officers will purchase and maintain all security equipment and conduct background checks on all screeners and security personnel. Currently, airport security is run largely by the private sector.
Administration officials say it should take at least four to six months for these measures to be in place. Until then, the President said the federal government will pay for governors to call up the National Guard to provide extra security at the nation's 420 commercial passenger airports. "We will work with the governors to provide security measures, visible security measures, to the traveling public will know we are serious about airline safety in America," Mr. Bush said.
The President said he will expand the number of armed air marshals on U.S. aircraft. The size and activities of that force will remain secret so as to keep terrorists guessing as to the likelihood that there is an armed Marshall on board. "When Americans fly, there need to be more highly skilled and fully equipped officers of the law flying along side them," he said. Now these marshals, of course, will wear plain clothes. They will be like any other passenger, but Americans will know there is more of them, and our crews will know there is more of them, and the terrorists will know there is more of them."
Mr. Bush said America will do everything it can to "rout out and destroy global terrorism" including military action, intelligence gathering, and diplomatic means to disrupt terrorist financial networks.