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United Pilots Could Get Clearance for Stun Guns in Cockpit

Federal agency says the weapons can play a crucial role in aviation security. Arming flight attendants with the devices also is possible.

June 10, 2003|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- United Airlines pilots soon may get stun guns to defend the cockpit against intruders, federal officials said Monday after determining that the devices "can play an important role in aviation security."

United is the only major carrier to request approval for stun guns and stands to be first to benefit from a decision by the Transportation Security Administration to allow the weapons on an airline-by-airline basis.

"We've gone through James Bond's toolbox in looking at nonlethal devices," said TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. "We've looked at devices that shoot beanbags and nets, and some that disperse chemicals. We've decided that ... stun guns are the only ones that have the ability to contribute."

Turmail said the TSA also would consider allowing flight attendants to be equipped with stun guns.

The devices use an electric current to temporarily incapacitate an assailant.

A limited number of volunteer pilots carry firearms under a special government program. All United pilots would be trained to use stun guns under the carrier's plan. The weapons would be kept under lock in every cockpit.

"This is a way to ensure that all pilots are trained in some sort of self-defense," said United spokesman Jeff Green. Stun guns would be used primarily to defend against an attack on the cockpit, he added.

The government will be "moving very soon" to make a final decision on United's application, Turmail said. The airline said it had expected approval late last month but had to answer a series of detailed, last-minute questions from the agency.

On Friday, the TSA sent a classified report to Congress indicating it approved in principle the use of stun guns. "We are now willing to review and, in theory, accept applications by airlines who might be interested in deploying these kinds of devices," Turmail said.

The only other airline to apply for permission is Phoenix-based Mesa Air, a regional carrier.

Generally, the industry has viewed stun guns as preferable to the firearms that pilots can sign up for under the government's flight deck officer program.

Other major airlines may adopt stun guns to reassure their pilots or bolster their image with the public.

United ordered 1,300 of the weapons last year and gave all its pilots initial training.

Although hardened cockpit doors, firearms and stun guns will provide greater protection than ever for pilots, flight attendants complain that the self-defense training they receive remains inadequate.

"There is virtually no defensive capability in the cabin, and that's where the people are," said Dawn Deeks, a spokeswoman for the Assn. of Flight Attendants. Stun guns "seem like a down-the-road thing for us, because we're still waiting for the elementary stages of our training."

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