WASHINGTON — A campaign by airline pilots to carry guns in cockpits has gained the support of two key House Republicans despite the opposition of Bush administration officials.
House aviation subcommittee chairman John L. Mica of Florida and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Don Young of Alaska are scheduled to introduce legislation Tuesday to allow trained pilots to carry guns.
"Some of us feel pretty strongly on the issue of allowing pilots and crews that are at risk to defend themselves," Mica said. "We don't know what the next attack might look like."
Mica's subcommittee has scheduled a hearing Thursday, when pilots plan to submit petitions with thousands of signatures to the White House. Through Friday, according to their Internet site, they had obtained 34,146 signatures.
The airline security law passed last fall allows the government to decide whether pilots should carry guns.
Two top administration officials, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, oppose arming pilots. Mineta has said that newly reinforced cockpit doors prevent terrorists from commandeering airplanes.
Mineta's personal views aside, Transportation Department officials have yet to decide whether to arm pilots, spokesman Chet Lunner said. He said he expects a decision shortly.
Responded Mica: "We may have a difference of opinion. If the majority of folks in Congress agree with us, we'll change the law."
An airline consumer group formed by Ralph Nader has endorsed arming pilots. Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, said the fortified cockpit doors are not strong enough to deter hijackers.
At the same time, it is unlikely a terrorist group could overpower a flight crew armed with guns and axes, and there is ammunition that would not penetrate the skin of an airplane, Hudson said.
Airline pilots have pushed for the right to carry arms since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Earlier this month, officials of five pilot unions sent a letter to Bush asking him to arm pilots who volunteer to carry the guns and go through background checks and training.
The Air Line Pilots Assn., the largest pilot union, is asking its roughly 62,000 members to urge their employers to support guns in the cockpit.
American Airlines Capt. Denis Breslin said other post-Sept. 11 security actions--reinforcing cockpit doors, inspecting all bags for explosives, improving passenger screening at checkpoints--aren't enough.