22 May 2002

US pilots' plea for guns is rejected

By David Rennie in Washington

United States airline pilots will not be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit, the Bush administration announced yesterday, rejecting calls from pilot unions to arm their members against future terrorist hijack attempts.

John Magaw, the under-secretary for transportation security, told a Senate committee that specially trained air marshals should be the only armed guards on commercial planes.

"Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane. These marshals are trained not only in the use of weapons but all the things that build up to that," Mr Magaw said, expressing concerns that mis-fired guns could bring a plane down.

Instead, he suggested that pilots remain behind locked cockpit doors, and manoeuvre the plane to keep hijackers off balance.

Pilots, backed by many members of Congress, have said that specially strengthened cockpit doors installed since September 11 are not sufficient protection.

Calls for armed pilots promoted anger from flight attendants and stewardesses, who asked to be given their own non-lethal weapons, such as stun guns, and guarantees that pilots would use guns to protect passengers and crew in the body of the plane.