NEWS TODAY â€¢ June 20, 2002 House panel votes to arm airline pilots Bill defies White House Eunice Moscoso - Cox Washington Bureau Thursday, June 20, 2002 Washington --- Defying the White House, a key House panel approved a measure Wednesday that would allow about 1,400 commercial airline pilots to carry guns on board planes. "The decision to arm pilots . . . was not taken lightly," said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation subcommittee. Mica said the bill is needed because "our aviation system is in a vulnerable stage of transition" and "it is impossible to place air marshals on all of the at-risk flights." In addition, he said it will be mid-2003 before all airliners are equipped with reinforced cockpit doors, and "we know terrorists have been trained to take over commercial aircraft by lethal and nonlethal means." Although the bill has a long way to go, the bipartisan voice vote reflects a strong feeling in Congress on the issue of arming pilots and puts lawmakers at odds with the White House, which decided last month against having guns in the cockpit. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. The measure calls for a two-year test program in which pilots who pass a federal Transportation Security Administration training course would become deputized as federal law enforcement officers. Pilots with military or law enforcement backgrounds would be given preference and the number of deputized pilots would not exceed about 1,400 --- roughly 2 percent of the total number of commercial airline pilots. Flight attendants would be given self defense training, which some already are getting in voluntary programs offered by airlines. At the end of the two-year period, the TSA would issue a report to Congress and the agency would decide whether to continue, expand or terminate the program. Congress gave permission for pilots to be armed with guns and nonlethal weapons, such as stun guns, last fall in the new aviation security law. But the measure states that any decision must be approved by the Department of Transportation. The department's Transportation Security Administration has rejected firearms in the cockpit. The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 62,000 pilots including those at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, has been lobbying aggressively for guns in the cockpit. It worked closely with the subcommittee on the bill, said the group's president, Duane Woerth. "We give this bipartisan compromise our full support," he said in a statement. The National Rifle Association also supports arming pilots. But gun control advocates say having a weapon could make the pilot more of a target and could lead to situations in which passengers are endangered. They also say that only sky marshals should have guns and that pilots should focus on flying the aircraft. Many of the same views are shared by the Association of Flight Attendants, which opposes the use of lethal weapons in the cockpit, but supports stun guns for both pilots and flight attendants. Ironically, the Bush administration's political allies on the issue are Democrats who usually oppose the White House. "I agree with [the TSA] because, fundamentally, if a hijacking occurs, pilots must concentrate on maintaining control and landing the plane as soon as possible and not on confronting terrorists with weapons," said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). And the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said 98 percent of the pilots wouldn't be armed during the two-year test. "We are putting guns in planes but almost surely there will be no gun in your plane," she said. The full House Transportation Committee is scheduled to vote on the measure next week. --- The Associated Press contributed to this article.