Pilot seeks guns for jet cockpits

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Pilot seeks guns for jet cockpits

Aviation industry considers tougher security measures

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

An American Airlines pilot has a plan to frighten terrorists out of the sky and to secure the nation’s planes.

Give the pilots guns.

"I am firmly convinced that if at least one of the crew members on each of those airlines had been armed, we would not have four crashes, thousands of people dead and the economy taking a dive," Keith Shankland said.

A veteran pilot and a Southlake councilman, Shankland grew angry after last week’s terrorist attacks when he learned that he would no longer be permitted to carry a pocketknife or a razor in his shaving kit.

His concerns are shared by many pilots nationwide.

Flight crews are exploring aggressive defensive tactics such as wielding emergency axes as weapons during attacks and using the power of the plane to keep terrorists off-balance, pilots and aviation experts said.

The Air Line Pilots Association last week sent a safety bulletin to its 67,000 members, telling them that "the cockpits should be protected at all costs, regardless of what kinds of security breaches have occurred, or are occurring in the back of the aircraft."

If the cockpit is breached, "pilots must be both mentally and physically prepared to take the life of a cockpit intruder," Stephen Luckey, a pilot and chairman of the union security committee, wrote in last week’s memo.

Pilots and airline safety advocates have also called for separate pilot entrances and bulletproof cockpit doors.

TTF Aerospace in suburban Seattle has developed a door that resists bullets, ramming and slashing. The door is made of several kinds of materials, and its makeup is similar to a snow ski.

One model of the door also comes without a visible handle, making it appear as though it cannot be entered, said Tim Morgan, TTF managing principal.

None of the airlines use it, but one major carrier has expressed serious interest since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, he said.

"Nobody can charge the door or attack the door without being foiled," Morgan said. "I think it would have made a difference."

Shankland’s idea of arming pilots is supported by Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Nevada, which has offered to train all certified, commercial pilots for free.

"Without a handgun to defend it, the cockpit crew is easily defeated," Ignatius Piazza, the institute founder, said in a statement. "However, when both pilot and co-pilot are armed and trained … they have the tools, ability, and will to defend themselves and repel the murderous intent of terrorists."

Shankland said guns could use bullets that would stop an intruder without penetrating the hull of a plane.

He supports the idea of bulletproof doors, adding that cameras could be installed outside of them so pilots can monitor the cabins.

The cockpit is the last line of defense, Shankland said.

"I'm not the threat," he said. "I've had background checks performed. Numerous background checks. I've been fingerprinted. I've had psychological evaluations. Whatever we can do to enhance the safety of the people on that airplane, we should do."

Approval could take time, however.

The Federal Aviation Administration is swamped with new security strategies, spokesman John Clabes said. Arming pilots would require an extensive review.

"It’s too early to even consider something like that," he said. "Everything is so fluid right now. Proposals are everywhere. None of them are set in concrete."

This article contains information from Knight Ridder News Service.

Josh Shaffer, (817) 685-3957
[email protected] © 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas