Officials with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) say pilots have no choice but to arm themselves to maintain security in the sky. This hit the wires Monday. Last week, ALPA's president, Captain Duane Woerth stated, "I have given the [ALPA Security] Task Force a mandate that all airport and flight security initiatives and improvements are to be fully considered. Nothing is, or should be, ruled out!"
The pilots' union has already sought an increase in the number of available air marshals who would travel among passengers on commercial flights, but say that this is insufficient. There aren't enough marshals to travel on every scheduked flight. As you know, we have stated that previously, at Sierra Times. In fact, there was testimony on this matter last week in Congress.
It was a conversation with John Mazor, media representative for the Air Line Pilots Association, that made me take another look at armed passengers on planes. I also spoke to other pilots on the condition of anonymity. Mazor, by the way, did not give me the impression that he was anti-gun. In fact, just the opposite. He did say the pilots' union had "all the cards on the table."
Two words, folks: Air Rage. It's something most air travelers have not seen, but I have seen at least once. Mazor stated, "a passenger going through air rage with a loaded weapon may only add to the danger in such situations." He's right. But there's more that many of the readers may not understand. It's called "Maritime Law."
Under maritime law, the applied rule among international (and to some degree, domestic) flights is that the captain is in charge of the transport vessel, period. If the captain does not want his passengers armed, he has the right to make that call for the safe passage of the remaining passengers and the cargo. On any vessel, it is ultimately the captain who must make the rules for safe travel. At least, that's the way it should be.
Under these Maritime Rules, this was in part what led to the Black Tuesday disasters. The captains of these craft should not have allowed anyone else to take control of the craft. The reason it happened is partly because of the old guidelines for how to deal with hijackers.
Mazor said, "Most hijackers had some kind of agenda, but in all cases, they wanted the plane to land somewhere. Pilots were instructed to get the plane on the ground safely, then let the hijacker reap the fruits of his labor." This protocol, of course, changed on Black Tuesday.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20 and, like war pilots discussions and briefings after an aerial dogfight, civilian aviators are discussing among themselves how to deal with hijackers the next time.
And make no mistake. September 11, 2001, was nothing less than an aerial dogfight, and our side got only one out of four, while grounding the other potential dogfights that were to happen. For reasons that are obvious, some of the concepts cannot be discussed publicly, since that would compromise countermeasures being devised to deal with terrorist air assaults. In a general sense, there are immediate actions that can be taken with the plane to disorient the potential hijackers--actions that could be effective. You may lose your lunch, but at least you'd land safely on a runway.
As a person who has taken flight lessons, I can say that it is important that the person in charge of the aircraft has knowledge and complete control of all the tools at his disposal in case of any emergency. This would include armed personnel.
And so, the captain of the aircraft, not I, must call the shots, no pun intended. To the pilots of America, my apologies and hats off to you.
This won't fly with many people, who will say even an armed pilot isn't enough. We want to be armed in case that pilot gets neutralized in an on-board dogfight. How can we trust a pilot to take the right action?
Something that broke my fear of flying long ago is the principle that "No matter what happens, if something goes wrong, the pilot wants to land safely as nuch as everyone else." They don't want to get slammed into skyscrapers either.
The presentation to Congress made by the pilots' union represents the art of "unconventional" thinking. Another good example was the statement of the pilot of UAL flight 564 made while leaving Denver:
This is unconventional thinking for an unconventional war. More so, it's an American way of thinking in times of war, and a very good one anytime. Look at the situation, and deal with it accordingly. Don't worry about the federal guidelines. Adapt, improvise, and overcome. Sound familiar?
Now, if only we can get the federal government to listen to the people (the bosses) a little better. The pilot (the Captain of the Vessel) says that he and his crew should be armed. Of course, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says no. They know better. In my opinion, the pilots should now tell the FAA bosses to fly all the planes themselves, and live by their own rules. This ongoing divide between the government and the private citizens will only cause more disasters. This is War. These pilots are front line soldiers. It is criminal and treasonous to disarm them at a time of war.
It will take a while to get people back in the air flying again, but not because of air safety. I spoke to an airline ticket agent over the phone about this problem. He didn't want his name used.
"I think people understand that we have all taken security measures more seriously, and it's doubtful that what happened on September 11 will happen again anytime soon. What people are afraid of is being caught far away from home if and when the next attack comes. If flights are grounded again, it'll be another nightmare like [Black Tuesday]. Yes, we know we are free to roam the country. But we want to be free of attack as well. That will take a sound defense where everyone is included."
So bailouts alone won't work. Air marshals alone won't work. Calling 911 alone won't weork. The flying public (and everyone else) has to be convinced that the nation as a whole is more secure. When it comes to "homeland security," there are about 220 million soldiers (including pilots) ready to sign up. Washington has to stop thinking the conventional thinking of Washington, and at least open up the beltway for other voices to come in. National ID cards, roving wire taps, and e-mail snooping only make us weaker as a free people. After all, we're supposed to be fighting for Liberty, aren't we?
After September 11, 2001, the policy of "separation of church and state" vanished when the nation--all of us--called out for it. It was the right first step. We all prayed together, government officeholders and private citizens alike. In order to win this war, our government will have to understand that we must do more than pray together. We must work together. We must fight together. The greatest weapon at our disposal, and the greatest strategy of "homeland security," is to return to a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
This is Reality. This is War. These are the Rules of Engagement.
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