Pilots Push for Return of Weapons
By ANGIE WAGNER
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Slid into a holster and nestled between manuals and maps, the .38 special was packed into pilot Don Worley's flight bag before every trip. Once inside the cockpit, Worley strapped the gun to his belt. He never had to use it, but he was ready.
That was 1965, decades before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., prompted the Air Line Pilots Association to suggest arming pilots in the cockpit.
"If anything it was a comfort," Worley said of his gun.
Worley, now 75, was one of the first airline pilots in the country trained to use a gun. He worked for Bonanza Airlines, a company shaken by a 1964 Pacific Airlines flight from Reno to San Francisco in which a suicidal man shot and killed the pilot and co-pilot. The plane crashed near Dublin, Calif. Forty-four people died.
Bonanza began a voluntary training program in Las Vegas to arm its pilots, and Worley was one of the first to sign up.
But the program only lasted about a year, mostly because foreign destinations did not have the same regulations for armed pilots.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many pilots and their union have been advocating arming pilots as a last resort to prevent hijackers from taking over planes. The hijackers in the attacks were armed with box-cutters and knives.
"Guns would be used as a defensive measure if and only if the entire system ahead of that has failed us," John Mazor, spokesman for ALPA, said Friday.
On Thursday, the Senate approved an amendment that authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration to permit pilots to carry guns. Under the measure, airlines and pilots would make the decision whether to put weapons in the cockpit.
Mazor says the union is hopeful the proposal will be approved, but President Bush has said there may be better ways to provide security.
United Airlines pilot Bob Giuda, also a New Hampshire state representative, is circulating a resolution this month among the various union councils that calls for the government to let pilots have guns.
If legislation isn't enacted, Giuda wants the pilots to suspend air service.
"I knew the two captains of the United aircraft that were commandeered," Giuda said Friday. "We are a band of brothers. We deal with the same issues. We deal with the same fears."
The union stresses that the program would be voluntary and guns would be a last resort. The union also is suggesting stun guns be kept in the cockpit.
Already, Bush has announced that in-flight air marshals will be trained. He has authorized $500 million in grants to the airlines to strengthen cockpit doors and study technology that would allow air traffic controllers to take control of a plane if the pilot was incapacitated.
Airline pilot Matt Ragan of Boulder City isn't waiting on the issue to be decided. The day after the attacks, he called the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute outside Las Vegas to sign up for a class.
"It's the only way I can protect myself," said Ragan.
Ignatius Piazza, founder of Front Sight, is offering pilots free training if airlines authorize it.
At the Blackwater Training Center in Moyock, N.C., the school already has prepared a course for pilots to teach them to shoot at close range, said Bill Masciangelo, center president.