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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Airline crews consider carrying stun guns
Stun gun graphic
Stun guns override the brain's ability to control muscles
By the BBC's Mike Donkin

Three months after the 11 September attacks in the United States, the European Union has acted to tighten security at airports.

All luggage going on to planes now has to be x-ray screened and there are to be improved security checks on airport and airline staff.

[The Tazer Gun] overrides the brain's ability to control the muscles and brings the person to the ground.

Rake Smith, Tazer Gun salesman

And in the United States, efforts are also being made to upgrade security in an effort to get passengers back on board and counter the dramatic drop in passenger numbers.

The airline industry is one of the biggest global loss-makers in today's business world. Some airlines - like Swissair - have gone out of business.

Falling numbers

There is no crush around the baggage carousels at Phoenix airport these days.

With passengers staying away, flights across America have been slashed by a fifth. So have jobs. Aviation analyst John Powers, an ex-British Airways vice president, says much is at stake.

"I think the first thing is to get people back on aircraft," he says.

"It's a national issue. In fact, it's a global issue. It's not an airline issue as such. It is the safety of the population as they travel, and airline industry is the infrastructure of business today."

A number of US airlines have started to consider radical solutions to make passengers feel safe.

Sniffer dogs at US airport
Airport security has already been tightened
Security around pilots has already been tightened. Cockpit doors are re-enforced and now stay locked. And sky marshals patrol certain flights.

But some airlines want to go further and arm their crews with stun guns to tackle would-be hijackers.

Rake Smith is Tazer Guns' enthusiastic salesman. "Basically it's a non-lethal weapon that fires out two darts up to 21 feet and it transmits an electrical impulse into the central nervous system of the subject," he said.

"It overrides the brain's ability to control the muscles and brings the person to the ground."


Staff of Maca Air gathered around their desks for a demonstration - along with one courageous volunteer.

When Rake Smith fires the weapon, Joe Resnick buckles at the knees and crumples to the office floor. But he lives to tell the tale.

Right now the pilots have a 12th Century weapon in the cockpit called an axe.

Jonathan Aunstein, Maca Air Chairman
"When it hit, my feet pointed straight out and I was up on my toes," he said. "I just couldn't hold myself straight up."

So what does he think would have happened if he had been a hijacker in an aircraft?

"Oh I'd have gone down for sure," Mr Resnick said. "There's no doubt about it."

Maca Air's chairman, Jonathan Aunstein is pressing federal authorities to sanction stun guns fast.

"Right now the pilots have a 12th Century weapon in the cockpit called an axe," he said. "This is a 21st Century weapon which I think makes a lot more sense. It's not lethal, it will not affect the aircraft controls and this will in fact be something that they've asked for and we're the first airline to respond in that regard."

Flight attendants

Until now, flight attendants have only had limited responsibility for safety in the air.

Attendants' union leader Patricia Friend says much work is needed first if they and a stun gun are to become the last line of defence in the cabin.

"The training that we have now for hijacking situations is sadly outdated," she says.
Passenger passing through metal detector
Extra security is needed to make passengers feel safe

"It's focused on a 1970s profile of a hijacker and we desperately need upgraded training. We desperately need some personal defence training."

So, faced with security at every turn, how reassured do passengers checking in at Phoenix feel so far?

"We came here, we did fine, we feel safe," says a passenger in Phoenix Airport. "Now it's just a matter of getting back home."

Passenger opinions

How do passengers feel about stun guns being used aboard planes by aircrew?

"I think it ought to be something they can use," says one. "I think also that people that are flying will stand up for their rights on planes now where they didn't before."

Another agrees that the weapons are a good idea "as long as the people who are holding them know what they're doing".

Airlines in the US are set to lose $5bn this year.

To turn things around their crews may have to become as handy with a Tazer as a hot towelette.

See also:

07 Nov 01 | Americas
US airport security 'in crisis'
06 Nov 01 | Americas
Weapons shock for US airport
23 Oct 01 | Americas
Security concerns dog Boston airport
14 Nov 01 | Americas
Rockaway relives brushes with death
13 Nov 01 | Americas
Crash blow to holiday air travel
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