This is a partial transcript from The Big Story With John Gibson, September 25, 2001.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: What can we do to improve airline safety and bring back confidence in flying? We're joined now by Representative Jack Quinn, a member of the House Aviation Subcommittee. And the former chief of security for El Al Israel Airlines, arguably the safest airline in the world, Isaac Yeffet.
Mr. Quinn, I like to ask you first. Today it turns out — we're keeping an eye on this picture while we talk — that the airline pilots have reversed themselves and say they do favor that pilots be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit. Is that now thought to be a good idea?
REP. JACK QUINN (R-NY), HOUSE AVIATION SUBCMTE.: I think — you know, we finish the week of hearings down here, and we've have heard a lot from a lot of people. But I think that absolutely has to be part of the picture of what we do when we talk about making the airlines safe again. Whether it's armed federal marshals, whether it's locking and securing the cockpit, or if the pilots come to us and say that they're unanimous, and they want to carry and be armed with weapons, then I think that's something we have to look at. That's for sure.
GIBSON: Mr. Yeffet, you worked on the security for El Al, which has not had a hijacking in God knows how many years, a long time. What is it that El Al does that we don't?
ISAAC YEFFET, FMR. EL AL SECURITY CHIEF: El Al built a security system, the first and only concern is the safety of the passengers. Here we hire low level of security people. We train them hours, and then we show them how to operate x-ray machines, and how to take care of the throw away baton server, and that's it.
In Israel you have to train people days. You have to test them a lot. And to bring them to a point where tests and real should be the same. No one is allowed to fail if he wants to remain in the system.
GIBSON: Let me — Mr. Yeffet, you've flown recently on some domestic airlines. You said there was no security. Do you believe that with 35,000 flights a day, American Airlines, U.S. Airlines, can be as safe as El Al?
YEFFET: I have no doubt that the answer is yes. And let me ask now questions. Is the fact that 450 passengers are flying with 747 with El Al. They have the right fly safe and secure.
And American 450 passengers that are flying with American air carriers, they don't have the same right, only because we are big air carriers here?
You need the same counters that are in Tel Aviv and New York. You have the same — you need the same ticket agents in Tel Aviv and here. What is the difference? Anyhow, the passengers are waiting on line. While they're on line, I can ask them the questions and to determine who is a bonafide passenger, and who is suspicious.
GIBSON: Jack Quinn, it does raise the issue, is American Airlines — is FAA — the overseers of U.S. airlines, are they — essentially owned by the airlines — can they impose conditions on the airlines, or are the airlines — do they have to agree to conditions?
QUINN: I think what we he to do here, John, and we've talked about it since this tragedy. I think that we have to get involved and make sure that the FAA, as the gentlemen points out, we may have to give up some conveniences. But right now, we've got people at those metal detectors who are making $6. We've heard stories of people who have left metal detectors to go to work for a fast food chain in the airport.
The federal government has to federalize that. We have to step in and we have to say that we're going to train these people properly. We are going to give them the information and the knowledge that they need to make sure that they know the technology that the bad guys are using.
And I think these aren't bad people that are working in the airports currently, I mean they're good, hardworking people. We just have not given them the information they need.
GIBSON: Well let me get this straight, Jack, you're saying you do — you are not favoring federal...
QUINN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, it's my legislation that we just introduced three or four days ago that would federalize these workers. Absolutely, we have to do that.
GIBSON: These particular workers?
QUINN: Sure, we must. I think we have to federalize them. As the gentlemen points out, we have to make the rules the same everywhere in the United States, and we have to have the FAA setting the standards, not an airline that's likely to cut corners when the bottom line is important to them, and if they can hire ....
GIBSON: Mr. Yeffet, you heard what Mr. Quinn proposes, federal workers. That it will be the job of the federal government from curb to cockpit to ensure security. You said that's not a good idea, and I can hardly believe you said that. Why?
YEFFET: Because the airlines should be responsible for the security. They fly the passengers, they sell them the ticket, they may have the reservation, they deal with the catering, they deal with the beautifry, you name it.
Now, why — I have to release them from responsibly? If we can train the people how to deal and to cooperate with the security department of the airlines, I can assure you that information that the security department can get from the employees, the value will be so high that they help us to arrest the terrorists on the ground when they are coming.
GIBSON: Jack Quinn, what do you think about the idea of bolstering airline security, and keep it private, keep it the airline's responsibility?
QUINN: John, listen, there's no question that security has to become better, at least in our system. I don't think we can allow the airlines to do it. They've been handling it so far, and obviously it hasn't worked. And as to your question a few minutes ago about whether it should be the FAA or the Department of Justice, I don't see why it has to be one or the other. Let's get them both working together on this topic.
We've got Tom Ridge, who the president just assigned as the Homeland Security Office. Let's get both of these offices, it shouldn't be a turf battle between one or the other. Obviously that hasn't worked. Let's get them working together.
GIBSON: But, Jack, let me ask you. I mean, Mr. Yeffet has some experience with El Al in Israel.
GIBSON: You have some experience here in the United States.
GIBSON: Can — do you think that, just as a bottom line question, you can trust the airlines to take care of their own security if it costs them money? Or do you have to impose a government security on them that the taxpayers pay for?
QUINN: John, I think when we ask them to do that, and it's a bottom line that's hard to ask anybody, whether it's airlines, or railroads, or any industry in our country, to do that on their own. They're all looking at the bottom line. It's too tough a question.
If the FAA is going to be the agency that oversees safety rules in our country, then they ought to be the ones that have the safety rules in place, and also take it from curb to the cockpit, as you said before.
We're willing to work with all of these airlines. I think they have to work with us. Clearly we need to be able to get these standards up. The only way for us to do it is with the FAA.
GIBSON: We're going to have to talk more about this later, because I'm out of time.
GIBSON: Isaac Yeffet, thank you.
YEFFET: Thank you.
GIBSON: Jack Quinn, thank you.
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