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Guns won't be allowed in cockpits

Guns will not be permitted in the cockpits of commercial airplanes, the federal government said Tuesday. "Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane," John Magaw, undersecretary for transportation security, said during a Senate Commer...

Guns will not be permitted in the cockpits of commercial airplanes, the federal government said Tuesday.

"Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane," John Magaw, undersecretary for transportation security, said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Magaw disclosed his department's decision Tuesday in response to a question from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. A formal announcement will be made later this week, Magaw said.

His statement follows months of post-Sept. 11 debate on whether arming pilots would deter hijackers.

Trained air marshals should be the only armed officers on board, Magaw added.

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Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge previously indicated their opposition to arming pilots.

Others against arming airline pilots have said reinforced cockpit doors now required on all planes mean that pistols are unnecessary. They also have expressed concern that an errant shot might hit a passenger or damage a key electrical system on the plane.

But those in favor of arming pilots have said this is an unlikely scenario and that pilots would use firearms only as a last line of defense.

"The government already has told us that if terrorists take control of one of our cockpits, they will send military aircraft to shoot down the airliner and all its crew and passengers," said Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

"In the face of such choices, we do not understand why these same government officials refuse to give pilots a last chance to prevent such a tragedy."

The ALPA represents 62,000 airline pilots at 42 airlines in the United States and Canada, including Northwest Airlines and United Airlines. Both service Fargo's Hector International Airport.

Although local airline pilots were contacted Tuesday, none could not comment due to the union's mandate.

"We have demonstrated the need to arm pilots against terrorist hijackers. We have examined the objections and have shown in each instance why the objections are misleading or wrong," Woerth said.

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Will Holman, a spokesman for the Minneapolis branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, said it is impossible to entirely eliminate the risk of a hijacker seizing a cockpit.

"Some significant steps have been taken already to reduce the risks," Holman said. "Arming pilots would be in the best interest of everyone."

Some flight attendants, meanwhile, have advocated nonlethal weapons, such as stun guns, which could be used in an emergency.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., chairman of the Commerce Committee, said guns would not be needed as long as pilots kept cockpit doors locked while in flight.

But Holman said it is sometimes necessary for a pilot to open the door, especially on long flights, as the cockpits aren't equipped with the facilities needed for an eight-hour flight.

Besides the Senate bill, the House Aviation Subcommittee will take up the Young-Mica bill Thursday. This bill would mandate a government program for selective training and arming of airline pilots.

"The bill contains the necessary safeguards and elements for a responsible and effective method to add this urgently needed, final layer of defense of the cockpit," Woerth said. "At this point, our only recourse is to call on Congress to reassert its wishes regarding firearms in the cockpit through the Young-Mica bill."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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