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Pilots, Flight Attendants Split On Plans for Cockpit Weapons

By Sara Kehaulani Goo

More than 20,000 airline pilots signed a petition and sent it to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday demanding that they be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit to protect themselves from potential hijackers.

Responding angrily, the union for flight attendants declared that they would fight the pilots proposal, unless the pilots agreed to use their guns not only to defend themselves, but to ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the airplane.

The exchange marked the latest and most pointed skirmish in an unresolved legislative and security policy debate about whether weapons should be permitted in airplane cockpits, and if so, how they should be used to defend against hijackers.

The issue has been simmering since last fall when a handful of pilots first raised the idea after the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings. Since then, the proposal has gathered momentum among pilots, producing legislative proposals, including bills by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, and Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H.

As pilots moved closer toward their goal, they galvanized questions from flight attendants who feel they are being ignored in a security approach that seems to focus first and foremost on pilots. The Association of Flight Attendants have proposed that they be given some kind of non-lethal weapon, such as a stun gun, to contain unruly passengers. Pilots are opposed to stun guns on airplanes unless they can have lethal weapons.

At a minimum, flight attendants want any weapons proposal to take account of their needs, and they worry about a scenario in which they are alone in a plane with hijackers, while the pilots are behind locked doors with their guns.

“We’re against the pilots having guns until we know that they’re going to come out of the cockpit, into the cabin, to defend us and the passengers,” said Jeff Zack, spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants.