New Look For Airport Security

Should Pilots Carry Guns On Flights?

An agent from a new crop of elite Federal Air Marshals, trained at an FAA facility in New Jersey, soon could be sitting in an airplane seat near you, adding to other law enforcement agents the justice department says will be flying within days – incognito – on commercial flights.

This is part of America's frantic, belated effort to fix its broken airline security system. 48 Hours Correspondent Susan Spencer reports.

Former FAA security chief Billy Vincent thinks what’s been done so far is only a start. He likes the elimination of curbside check-in, and knives, and the overall show of security. But he can’t believe airlines still are putting bags on planes without first matching each one to a passenger.

"Just because the terrorist haven’t attacked us with this vulnerability doesn't mean they don’t know about it or they won’t do it. They could hit 20 airplanes tomorrow," he says.

Vincent is very critical of the low-paid, often poorly trained screeners, who routinely failed security checks before this disaster. He thinks it should be taken over by the Federal government.

Airline security consultant Michael Boyd agrees. "Shutting down the system made sense. Within 24 hours it should have been back up again and that means security check points should be manned by law officers and if that means you have to kidnap a cop off the beat in Dubuque and send him to a screening machine in Des Moines, you do it."

"We have to take those burger flippers out and get professional people in there," he said. "This is an emergency situation."

Boyd scoffs at the changes so far: "Taking hair clippers away from passengers, that's not going to fix anything…doing away with valet parking, that’s not going to do anything."

Some, including Vincent, even suggest arming pilots. "I believe virtually every pilot, probably 90 percent of them would endorse that project tomorrow and say, 'give me my gun,'" he says.

Captain Steve Luckey, who heads the Airline Pilot Association’s security committee, admits that it contradicts all pilot training, which until now was to cooperate with hijackers.

"Now we have to react in a manner that addresses the threat we have. There are very few effective options. I mean there are stun guns, air-tazers that are non-lethal. That may be applicable, but when you get to groups, you’ve got to do something that’s lethal and something that works," Luckey says.

Also being considered are improvements in passenger screening, which would link all airline computers to law enforcement watch lists.

One company, Identix, has a fingerprint recognition system that could be used to identify passengers, enabling airlines to do instant background checks. Face recognition technology already in use in London could also help airlines zero in on terrorists.

Two federal task forces reviewing all these possibilities will make recommendations on October 1.

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