President Bush sought to coax Americans back onto airplanes Thursday by putting the federal government in charge of airport security and pledging $500 million to upgrade security features on airplanes in hopes of thwarting future hijackings.
"Get on the airlines, get about the business of America," Mr. Bush told hundreds of flag-waving airline workers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Two jets were parked nose-to-nose at the event - one each from United Airlines and American Airlines, the carriers hijacked two weeks ago. The attacks left nearly 7,000 dead or missing.
Terrorists hijacked four airplanes Sept. 11, crashing two into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon outside Washington. A fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, apparently after passengers struggled with the hijackers. U.S. air travel has dropped sharply since the attacks.
"We will not surrender our freedom to travel. We will not surrender our freedoms in America," Mr. Bush said, his voice rising to a shout. "You may think you have struck our soul. You haven't touched it!"
President Bush's plan includes:
Mr. Bush also said he would invest in technologies that allow pilots to monitor passenger cabins by video camera, and let control towers take over "distressed" aircraft by remote control.
In response to the president's proposals, most Democrats and a sizable number of Republicans in Congress said the government must do more than supervise baggage screening by civilian employees. They want federal agents to take over the job, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Scheiffer.
Congressman Jim Oberstar, who is one of the most influential house members on aviation policy said, "we don't contract out the duties of the army."
With $5 billion in emergency aid already going to the airlines, Democrats also want federal help for airline workers who've been laid off.
What everyone in Washington agrees on is that security can no longer be left to the airlines.
Some of Mr. Bush's measures can be implemented by the Federal Aviation Authority, while others will have to be approved by Congress, officials said.
The FAA has ordered new security steps in recent days, including an end to curb-side check-in and a ban on knives and other cutting instruments carried on board.
The agency also has renewed efforts to confirm the identities of airline, airport and contract workers with access to aircraft and sensitive areas of the airport.
A key goal of the Bush administration is to restore confidence in commercial air travel, which has been battered in the wake of the attacks, triggering thousands of industry layoffs and contributing to the economic slump.
"One of my concerns is that this terrible incident has convinced many Americans to stay at home. One of the keys to economic recovery is going to be the vitality of the airline industry," Mr. Bush told reporters Wednesday.
Mr. Bush cast doubt on a proposal circulating on Capitol Hill to allow pilots to have weapons in the cockpit. "There may be better ways to do it than that," he said.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta flew to Chicago Thursday aboard a commercial flight to demonstrate his confidence in the air system. He was accompanied by Jane Garvey, head of the FAA.
Mineta waited in a long line at a BWI security checkpoint. He placed a leather bag on a scanner's conveyor belt, took out his keys and walked through the metal detector. It beeped, prompting a security guard to give Mineta a thorough sweep with a hand-held detector before allowing him onto Concourse A.
Mineta called the system safe, secure and stable.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the number of commercial flights each day had returned to near normal, now at about 5,500, compared with the maximum before the attacks of 6,500.
Howeverrelatively few people are on those flights. Delta Air Lines, for example, says its planes typically are only 35 percent filled.
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