A House panel pushed forward with legislation to arm pilots, despite strong opposition from the Bush administration.
The bill, approved by the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, would arm up to 1,400 pilots for two years. In addition to the Bush administration, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., opposes the idea.
Bills to arm pilots were introduced in both houses of Congress after John Magaw, head of the Transportation Security Administration, announced last month that he would not allow guns in cockpits. The agency is still reviewing whether to allow pilots and flight attendants to carry nonlethal weapons such as stun guns.
The House legislation would give the Transportation Security Administration two months to develop a pilot program allowing up to 1,400 pilots, or 2 percent of the total work force, to undergo training and carry weapons on board airplanes. After two years, the Transportation Security Administration would make a decision on whether to continue the program or end it.
The two-year test would begin once 250 pilots have signed up for the program.
But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said 98 percent of the pilots wouldn't be armed during the two-year test.
And Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, argued that pilots would make planes less safe because they might be tempted to breech the barrier of the newly reinforced cockpit doors to handle a terrorist, which could offer entrance to the cockpit and access to the pilot controls.
The bill is scheduled before the House Transportation Committee June 26.
Pilots' unions have pushed hard for the right to carry firearms in the cockpit, and have been lobbying lawmakers to support legislation.
The executive director of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, whose members include the unions representing American and Southwest pilots, recently urged the group to create its own political action committee to help the fight.