WASHINGTON – Ignoring Bush administration objections, the House Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to allow more than 1,000 pilots to carry guns for a two-year trial.
Committee chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, said the bill could come up before the full House for a vote the week lawmakers return from their July 4 recess.
The legislation approved by voice vote would allow up to 1,400 pilots -- 2 percent of the work force -- to volunteer to undergo training and obtain permission to carry guns on board planes they are piloting. After two years, the Transportation Security Administration would decide whether to end the program, continue it or expand it.
"Nothing else can provide the deterrence of an armed pilot protecting what otherwise would be a defenseless flight deck," said aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica, R-Fla.
Backed by pilots' unions, bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both houses have moved to overturn the administration's decision to keep guns out of airplane cockpits.
"I have listened to pilots," Young said. "They truly believe that if the pilots were armed on 9/11, the hijackings never would have happened."
In the Senate, the task has been made more difficult by the opposition of Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., whose panel has jurisdiction over the issue. But proponents say they will try to bypass the committee and offer the provision as an amendment to another bill.
The Association of Flight Attendants objected to the bill, saying it does not protect passengers and crew members in the cabin.
"Giving guns to pilots without specific cabin defense requirements for airlines could be deadly for flight attendants and passengers," union president Patricia Friend said. "It also does nothing to help flight attendants thwart a threat to the cockpit, which must come from a hijacker in the cabin."
Pilots and flight attendants were on the same side of another issue Wednesday. American Airlines employees met with lawmakers to call for streamlined airport screening for flight crews.
They called for flight crews to be issued tamperproof identification cards after undergoing background checks. With the cards, they could enter separate lines at checkpoints where they would not be subject to the extensive screening that many pilots and flight attendants now must go through.
American Airlines executives sent a letter to Transportation Security Administration head John Magaw, requesting that he set up the program.