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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Safer air travel: Do airlines need armed guards?
US President George Bush is expected to announce a series of sweeping new measures today to improve flight security in the wake of the suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

These are said to include extending the use of armed plain-clothes agents - or air marshals - on domestic flights as well as measures to strengthen cockpit doors to prevent unauthorised entry.

However, Mr Bush is unlikely to agree to calls for airline pilots to be armed.

At present only flights by El Al, the Israeli airline, carry armed air marshals and cockpits are sealed to protect against attempted intrusions.

Would such measures make any difference to airline safety? Could they prevent similar attacks happening in the future? Or are they an unrealistic option?

Click here to read your previous comments on travel safety.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As usual, the Americans view guns and violence as the answer to any problem. Investing in a decent ground security system, which ensures that NO weapons are on board the flight, makes more sense.
John Atkins, England

The best way to prevent terrorists on planes is to prevent them getting on board in first place

Alba, Scotland

The best way to prevent terrorists on planes is to prevent them getting on board in first place. Ground security is the most important thing, once they get on a plane it is much more difficult.
Alba, Scotland

Guns in planes are possibly going to be a target for terrorists. This means they do not have to actually carry anything onto the plane but take it off guards/pilots once they are on board. I think some type of disabling device would be more appropriate.
M Davis, Australia

What use is one bored security guard against half a dozen hijackers?

Will Robinson, UK
What use is one bored security guard against half a dozen hijackers? All it takes is for three of them to start causing problems and then the other three immediately know who the security guard is, they overpower him and they're now armed. You might as well say: PLEASE DO NOT CARRY WEAPONS ONTO THE AIRCRAFT - they're already provided.
Will Robinson, UK

There is no point in sealing cabin doors. Aircrew are not going to stay inside the cabin whilst passengers lives are being put at risk. What is required is gold old security checks and vigilant security guards. I travel frequently and have been amazed at the security at some US airports. In Miami a man walked through the detectors, setting them off, whilst staff continued to talk about a forthcoming baseball game.
Glenn Walker, Guatemala

All these suggestions are still allowing for the possibility of a terrorist getting on the plane. Surely we must find a way to eliminate the cause of the problem not the symptoms. Is it really fair to put the responsibility of the passengers and crews lives in the hands of the pilot? There he is behind a sealed double door with or without a gun, and there's this terrorist saying open up or I'll kill them all, what pilot in his right mind would keep the door locked?
Simon M, England

It seems as though terrorists have now lost the element of surprise to use aeroplanes as 'bombs'. The captain must keep the door locked regardless of what happens on the other side of it. This would render armed air marshalls a pointless and dangerous addition to security.
Will Hays, UK

I don't believe that a armed pilot would make a difference

Xiao, Holland
Having armed Pilots. You must be joking. What can a pilot do, when a terrorist is planning to blow the whole airplane if somebody resists. No, I don't believe that a armed pilot would make a difference.
Xiao, Holland

Have an exterior cockpit entrance door and a sealed wall between the pilot and passengers. The wall is so the terrorist can't get to the pilot and, more important, the pilot can not unlock a door and compromise the purpose of separation. If the wall is sealed, that will eliminate hundreds of 'if-but-maybe' senarios. Engineers should design the safest solution. I do mean engineers and not politicians.
Bud, USA

I have been shocked at how lax airport security in the US is - my husband flew here from Houston last week, and though a little tighter, non passengers were still allowed through. The fault lies with the ground checks, once in the air it is too late. US security personnel are poorly paid, so the right people are not in place.
VValerie Ramshaw, Venezuela - but Scottish

Until cockpit doors are made absolutely secure, pilots should at least be armed with stun guns. Pilots are the line of last defence against the terrorists' utimate objective - control of the aircraft. To leave pilots powerless in the wake of the events of September 11th makes no sense. Ground systems and intelligence already in place have failed miserably.
Susan, USA

Why do you need hand luggage on an aircraft? Everything you need is provided, except your personal medication, if needed.
Martin Cook, England

I feel that the emphasis must be on the security before the aircaft takes off. If there are no weapons or bombs on the aircarft then it cannot be hijacked. Further if we only ever address the symptoms we will never root out the problem. In this instance the terror groups chose aircraft, if we make this impossible they will use another soft but no less effective means to an end. As a civilised society we must target all terror groups no matter who they are or who they target.
Liam, Scotland

The US need to get their levels of security right at the airports before they embark on the 'air marshal' road

Kaytie, UK
I flew between England and the US last week and I must make some comments about the airport security. When departing from England, every passenger was questioned about their luggage in the check-in queue, and asked to put all vital documents in white plastic bags as the airline would not allow any hand luggage on the plane. We were then questioned again at check-in, went through the security section (which my watch made bleep) and searched. Upon boarding the plane, we were searched again.

On leaving the US to return to the UK, there was one security section, which I didn't bleep at and so was free to walk in with no questions. That was it - no other checks, and people carrying on suitcases as hand luggage. I think the US needs to get their levels of security right at the airports before they embark on the 'air marshal' road, after all, if they had as rigorous checks as we have, perhaps any passenger with a weapon wouldn't get near the plane.
Kaytie, UK

A lot of people here believe that as we trust the pilots with 200 or more lives, we can trust them with a gun. Polls say 80% of pilots are ex-military, and agree to being armed, which is a constitutional right here. I would personally advocate the "doubled door" with a "buzz-in button" to the cockpit, and possibly in-flight surveillance cameras. I also know the pilots can depressurise the cabin to knock everyone out. However, if a terrorist did make himself know on a plane in America at this point, I don't think he'd have a chance!
Sue Mitchell, USA

It has long been my fear that the lack of arms on planes would result in just such a catastrophe as has come down in the US. I for one would be thrilled if the sky marshal idea was made the law of the world's airlines, and I think people who are against it are holding on to their wishy-washy PC ideals at the expense of common sense and the reality of a world filled with remorseless jackals.
Glenn Weir, Canada

I believe the idea of pilots with guns is a good one. Pilots trained in the use of weapons would be a big deterrent to terrorists. The world has changed and, like it or not, we must change. As to the holding of a hostage to get the captain to turn over the plane, a decision must be made. One life for the lives of hundreds, it's sad but true.
Richard Powell, USA

The safest airline in the world is El Al. They have armed guards on all flights. Let us copy what works instead of staying with the plan that failed.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

First the United States placed pre-flight screening of passengers in the hands of the airlines, who, in order to reduce costs, placed the responsibility of security in the hands of contracted private security firms. These entities then hired, with little screening or training, minimum-wage employees to guard the ramparts, so to speak. When this failed the response is to arm air marshals, pilots and flight crew with guns. I was quite willing to continue flying until I heard I might not only have to worry about hijackers but also armed personnel of the United States and possibly the airlines. I don't particularly look forward to having to duck anyone's bullets, much less an explosive decompression. It won't matter to me or any other passenger who fires the shot.
D. Skip Bancroft, Fenton, Michigan, USA

The placement of US air marshals on flights would be a good step to helping to prevent the type of hijackings that the US has just experienced. Permitting police officers who have received special training to fly for free while armed would be another step. These steps should be applied to domestic flights in the US and flights to or from the US on US carriers.
Keith, USA

The Bush administration should understand the ground reality before policing the skies. Many airlines, just to make more money than their counterparts, allow back-to-back flights without giving enough time to check the passengers and their luggage. If suitable intervals are kept between the scheduled flights, airport authorities would get enough time to scrutinise each and every passenger as well as their belongings. Arming pilots may balance the equation with the hijackers but does not ensure the safety of hundreds of lives.
Sacheen Kuray, Dubai, UAE

Intentionally putting a gun on a plane, whether in the hands of a pilot or a marshal, will inevitably cause the "give me the gun or I stab her" stand off. Better to follow the example of the pilot of Flight 594, who said to his passengers "If there are terrorists on this plane," (there weren't), "they are probably outnumbered 195 to five ..." He went on to give some tips for using non-violent force of superior numbers to overpower and contain any threat to everyone's safety.
Simon, UK

Surely the need for increased security prior to boarding an aeroplane is paramount to eradicating terrorism on air travel, especially when there have been so many reports of people accidentally carrying knives undetected in their hand luggage since 11th September. This is the issue that needs to be tackled, and quickly, if the reputation of air travel is to remain unscathed after this. Leave guns out of aircraft; we are only causing problems for ourselves.
Beverley Jones, UK

I would personally make it harder to breach the cockpit door, and when the aircraft is under threat just turn down the oxygen in the compartment thus putting the terrorists asleep. Airport Security should be able to spot a passenger walking onboard with air tanks.
Ed, UK

These comments read like the position of a gun-control lobbying organisation. It is time that we re-think the role of the pilot on an airplane, and promote the pilots into the role of law enforcement. Who better to entrust with this responsibility than the pilots? We arm many other members of our society, from the secret service all the way down to the security guard at the local shopping mall, so who could possibly argue with arming a pilot? All the factual arguments against firearms on airplanes seem to revolve around the depressurisation of the aircraft, completely ignoring the technical feasibilty of weapons loaded with special bullets that could effectively incapacitate a potential hijacker but would not have the ability to penetrate the shell of the aircraft.
Keith Schulenburg, USA

Maybe where you have an itty-bitty country with little internal flying, you can afford to be lax about safety. But in the US, we need more protection. I'm for gun control generally, but not against law enforcement officers carrying guns to protect us.
Dan Kevin, USA

I'm a retired TWA Captain (qualified on B 767 and 757) and I definitely think that Pilots should be armed. We have demonstrated that we are very responsible people, and we need to be able to defend our "ship" and its passengers.
Cap. N. L. Goss, USA

Sealing the cockpit is not free of risks. What if a terrorist manages to infiltrate, disguised as a pilot? He or she could then act in peace. Some form of secure external override of the pilot seems to be a safer but expensive solution.
Chitta, India

Only a minimal amount of hand luggage should be allowed

Teresa, UK
As the sister of a flight attendant, I think that cabin crew are under enough pressure from passengers about the level of service, without the added complication of fire-arms training. Security should start at a very basic level. Only a minimal amount of hand luggage should be allowed. This leaves more time for security to be able to stop and search suspicious passengers, and makes bag searching a quicker and less painful experience. If this scheme is started, there will be no need for gas or fire-arms in the cockpit. Further, pilots have an axe in the cockpit for breaking windows if necessary. If the cockpit is sealed, isn't this enough?
Teresa, UK

A colleague of mine has just flown over from the USA on an American Airlines flight. While his hand luggage went through the X-Ray machine, the operators were stood around chatting and didn't look at the screen at all. If that is the level of motivation and professionalism that exists at the security check-in, even after the events of the 11th, how can you expect to prevent terrorism? Surely it would be cheaper and safer to train and pay these people properly, than to place armed air marshals on every flight?
Keith Cowan, UK

Aircraft should be staffed by some form of international police force

Graham Childs, UK
The need for increased security on our air travel is a top priority. I believe that aircraft should be staffed by some form of international police force, not necessarily armed. This would reassure passengers, and having trained security personnel aboard aircraft would mean safer travel.
Graham Childs, UK

With training, the pilots should be issued guns. At least give them the choice. Pilots are mostly ex-military officers and will use the weapons only in self-defence. In the 70s pilots were often known to carry pistols. That stopped the rash of skyjackings for nearly a decade.
Bob Veenstra, USA

Airline stewards already have to deal with violent passengers far too frequently these days. Perhaps having a plane full of stewards trained in control and restraint techniques (and possibly a selection of tazers or batons to reinforce the point) could solve both air rage and hijacking problems, without the risks of having weapons seized, cabins depressurised or half the cabin CS gassed.
Dave Meredith, UK

Pandora's box has opened. Not only must ground security, air security and pilot training be tightened up, but a very real threat exists of "sleeper agents" working as pilots for major airlines. The perpetrators of 11th September's horror prepared for it well in advance, waiting perhaps years. How many more await, with long service working for an airline? All airlines that take the safety of their passengers seriously should re-vet all their qualified pilots. This wouldn't have stopped the recent attacks, but it might stop the next wave.
Simon Topple, UK

More official security would mean more crew to impersonate

Jason Jones, UK
The security seems to be aimed at preventing "passengers" taking control of the plane and is still a reactive measure. Anything that can be used as a weapon cannot be brought on board by a passenger, yet spirits are served in glass bottles. Show me someone who can't turn a glass bottle into a weapon. As for the cockpit being sealed, it is conceivable that the terrorists gained access disguised as fellow pilots, in this case a sealed cockpit would serve to keep help out rather than stop hijackers getting in. More official security would mean more crew to impersonate to gain access to sensitive areas.

What is needed is better screening before the plane is boarded. Official crew in crew areas only, friends, colleagues and guests are designated passenger status only. More radically, the autopilot could be locked into a holding pattern using a panic button, preventing the plane from being a hijacker's tool and creating opportunities in the hands of negotiators at ground control.
Jason Jones, UK

If there are concerns over the safety of the currently available gases, presumably scientists could develop a new, safer, solution to put people 'to sleep'. After all I'm sure the US defence budget is big enough to allow some additional research. Any adverse reactions would surely be more acceptable than the loss of an entire plane.
Steve, UK

No matter the security measures, there will always be a way around them

Robert Haig, US
No matter the security measures, there will always be a way around them. Air marshals carry ammo that does not penetrate the hull unless fired directly (near right angle) at the skin of the aircraft. They are not uniformed. Depressurisation is only a problem with holes that are large enough to create enough suction to pull heavy things through. There is already a large hole in the back of the plane with an adjustable aperture: when the pressure is too high in the plane, the aperture opens, when the pressure is too low, the hole closes. I'm for trained, specially equipped non-uniformed air marshals. I'm not for arming pilots. Seal the cockpit and train the pilots never to open that door until they're on the ground. They may land a plane full of dead hostages if the terrorists kill them all, but at least the plane won't be used as a weapon.
Robert Haig, US

How could things have turned out any worse, had there been armed persons on those four flights?
Kevin, US

After reading these posts, I am grateful that airline security is not run by laymen. The amount of theorising on what could happen and what should be done during a hijacking is frightening. Pepper spray and tasers are essentially ineffective in such a closed confined space of a plane. Guns are still the best solution for stopping a violent individual quickly. Other methods such as gassing everyone on the plane but the pilots may work as well. In any event, airlines should be the ones responsible for the security on their planes.
David Rhodes, UK

I set off the alarm as I walked through the scanner but they let me through

Phil Taylor, Bracknell, UK
I flew out to New York on Sept 17th and returned on Sept 24th. I thought that as I was using Newark airport (one from which a hijacked plane took off) the security would be intense. There was better security on my previous flight from Gatwick to Ibiza. I set off the alarm as I walked through the scanner but they were unable to find out why so they let me through - twice! Wine was still being served in glass bottles and in glasses on the flight, making a mockery of the list of items not to be packed in your hand luggage. I would have felt more secure knowing that guards were aboard the flight, preferably with stun guns.
Phil Taylor, Bracknell, UK

I am not in favor of pilots or passengers carrying firearms aboard planes. Those policies would literally backfire. Today, I am in favor of Federal Air Marshals aboard US flights, even if they are armed with non-lethal but disabling weapons. As for how I will feel tomorrow, I don't know. We in the US have had too much of a "gun culture," I must agree. I'd like to see greater vigilance about protecting our safety without overreacting and making things worse. Even Air Marshals cannot replace common sense on the ground.
Laurie, USA

Surely we are close to being able to fly aircraft from the ground. Hijacking would then be impossible.
John, UK

Who will vet the armed guards? I would rather fly on a plane without these guards but with good security checks on the ground. I have flown within the USA and have been waved through when the metal detector was ringing.
Caron, England

Whilst the US is proposing security with on board officers and thicker doors, things which seem almost commonsense in the aftermath, it seems ludicrous to not look at the security before the flight is in the air. More checks on the ground, bag searching and metal detectors should be used frequently on international and internal flights. The things that happened in America were due fully to security in the airports being too lax. A plane is still a plane, hundreds of tons of metal and all that fuel. It doesn't matter if it's going to Europe, or to Washington from Texas - it's still a dangerous thing.
Pete Copper, UK

Pilots are for flying the plane, not acting like Dirty Harry

Name Here
Never try to solve a problem that's already been solved. El Al has clearly figured out how to best handle this type of situation. Retro-fitting to provide a secure cockpit wouldn't be that big a cost and the airlines have just been given a nice cash bonus to pay for it. Put airport security under Federal control and randomly put Air Marshals on flights. At last I agree with George W on one thing: pilots are for flying the plane, not acting like Dirty Harry.
David Parker, USA (ex-pat)

Many comment about sleeping gas as a solution but hijackers could use a gas mask. I think the best solution is sealed cockpits, without any guns in the plane.
Nestor Melo, Brazil

The use of gases, such as chloroform, CS and "sleeping" gas or "knock-out" injections would not work. As a medical researcher I use chloroform regularly, I have seen it "eat" through plastics, rubber and other materials. If it was released into an aircraft cabin I'd hate to think what it would do to rubber and plastic door/window seals and plastic covered electrical cables. As far as CS gas goes it is an irritant, hence a hijacker "high" on adrenaline would most likely become more violent. "Sleeping" gases and "knock-out" injections as used by highly trained anaesthetists in operating theatres are very dangerous and the persons under anaesthesia must be monitored with equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars to make sure they remain anaesthetised but also are not killed by the gas or injection.
Glenn, New Zealand

It's far too easy to get through security here in the USA

Nancy Fahrenthold, Snellville, Georgia, USA
As anyone who has flown in both America and Europe knows, it's far too easy to get through security here in the USA. Jobs in airport security here are too often close to minimum wage positions with high turnover. Employees treat the position with the same lack of respect that their employers, the airlines and airport authorities, do. Before we worry about arming pilots, let's start taking ground security seriously.
Nancy Fahrenthold, Snellville, Georgia, USA

I urge the decision makers to prevent rather than confront. If it's not possible to seize control of an aircraft then hijacking cannot succeed. Thus seal the flight deck and control systems so they cannot be commandeered. No weapons should be in an aircraft cabin at any time whether in the hands of passengers, hijackers or security staff. Putting a weapon onto an aircraft provides an opportunity to seize and misuse it.
Andrew, Switzerland

Terrorists won'tl pull exactly the same trick twice in a row

Name Here
I don't think it's likely terrorists will pull exactly the same trick twice in a row. After all, they know our guard is up. But they are known to have biological weapons, chemical weapons, maybe even nukes. Instead of preparing for these future dangers we are concentrating too much on making planes "safe" to reassure passengers. It's mostly an economic issue - the airlines will go out of business if everyone is afraid to fly.
Kristin, USA

Imagine the headlines. "Abusive passenger shot dead for using a mobile telephone," or "Flight XYZ123 downed by negligent discharge of Air Marshals' weapon - 300 dead." Lack of ground security lead to the hijacking of the aircraft used on September 11th, and that is where the authorities need to concentrate. Personally I would boycott any airline with armed staff on board - it is a disaster waiting to happen.
Jack, Athens,Greece

The only problem that I can see with sealed cockpits is who would make the pilots' cups of tea? The pilots that I know would be horrified if they thought they would have to do it themselves.
Simon Steele,

I think security measures have to take place on the ground

Kate Clarke, Norway
This would create new possibilities for terrorists or plain lunatics who could then threaten or hold hostage a crew member or passenger in order to force the pilot to hand over the weapon(s) on board. I think security measures have to take place on the ground.
Kate Clarke, Norway

If you trust a pilot with the lives of 300 passengers it is absurd to suggest that he couldn't be trusted with a firearm. In the 70's the world's airlines were protected by air marshals (armed with pre-fragmented ammunition that will not penetrate the skin of the aircraft) and highjackings were reduced almost to zero. To those who believe that airline staff should be unarmed I ask this: How could it have made Sept 11th any worse?
Bill, UK

How about the possibility of arming cabin staff with less dangerous weapons such as taser type stun guns? Perhaps this might discourage some of the so-called "air rage" situations as well.
Steve, UK

A combination of armed pilots and a sealed flight-deck with a reinforced door is the best solution. Low-velocity side-arms will represent some safety risk relating to potential depressurisation, but this is far out-weighed by the deterrence for terrorists. Having marshals in the cabin, is not, in my view, the best solution, as it's expensive to cover thousands of flights per day, just on the rare chance that there might be a terrorist on board, and outside the flight-deck, the marshal is vulnerable and could be identified and neutralised quickly by the terrorists. You should have the arms and protection at the target that the terrorists are aiming for i.e. the flight deck.
Ben Ranson, London, UK

Surely if a terrorist is on board a plane, security has already broken down. Tighten up baggage checks and passport control. I'd rather have to spend half an hour having my passport and ticket checked against some international database and my luggage searched. After all, what use is a gun if the terrorists' aim is to blow up the plane? Flying into Heathrow from Europe you go over the City, the Houses of Parliament etc. You don't need to purposefully crash the plane into a building to do some serious damage.
Helen, London, UK

It sounds like a reasonable solution to me. Maybe two marshals would be better

Jim Hubbell, USA
Armed federal air marshals were used for many years, and after they began riding as passengers, hijackings on flights to Havana ended. It sounds like a reasonable solution to me. Maybe two marshals would be better.
Jim Hubbell, USA

Surely this is inciting a push towards a military regime like in the Palestinian region, where guns are used threateningly as a deterrent. Actions like this will not solve the problem of hijacking incidents, but rather lead terrorists to invent even more complex plans. To use a gun against a gun just takes everybody further from a resolution leading to peace.
Adam, UK

Where on the aircraft would these armed guards sit? In business or economy class? How many would you have on a 747? Who takes over when the guards eat or go to the toilet? The whole business is complete nonsense and if this really is a serious proposal by President Bush then God preserve us.
Michael Rogers, UK

Anything to stop what happened from occurring again. But the threat of depressurisation is a real one. Couldn't guards be armed with pepper sprays or stun guns instead?
Tom Phillips, UK

The idea only makes real sense if other precautions are taken, as is the case with El Al. Here the security checks made on an individual before he or she steps on board are extremely thorough. However, the volume of traffic handled by El AL is extremely low in comparison to that handled in the US. Possibly another factor is that El Al has been specifically warned and alerted to terrorist activity. In some sense they must remain on a high state of readiness to confront potential threats.

The majority of the world's travellers on the other hand do not live with daily threats of terrorism and would be quite indignant if subjected to these stringent checks. Thus any long-term security measures are not likely to be effective simply because most people are not capable of confronting a threat that does not appear to directly influence them. But terrorists are not idiots. They choose a mission with a high probability of success. The game is to reduce risk factors to enable a successful terrorist operation. Higher levels of on-board security would help in this endeavour.
Kaw, Germany

Arming the flight crew poses the risk of weapons falling into the hands of those who we wish to guard against

Martin, United Kingdom
I would have thought allocating the additional resources to thorough on-the-ground security of all aspects of loading aircraft would be a better option. Heaven forbid, but arming the flight crew poses the risk of a rogue crew member running amok, or of weapons falling into the hands of those who we wish to guard against.
Martin, United Kingdom

Armed pilots, air marshals, stun guns, fortified cockpits - these seem to miss the point: hijackers normally threaten the life of someone in the cabin on the other side of the locked door, usually a flight attendant? The dilemma for the pilot would still be the same: 'do I act, risking someone else's life, or follow the hijackers' instructions?'. The best, and possibly safest, on-board method would be to use sleeping gas, as already suggested by a contributor, but the objective is still to prevent someone getting on board with the capability of doing harm.
John Mitko, Spain

Armed 'air marshals' is about the most 'air brained' idea ever imagined! The potential hijacker now only needs to grab a defenceless air stewardess and threaten to kill her unless the air marshal comes forward. If he does not identify himself then the airhostess dies, if he does then the hijacker is instantly armed. What a position to put an air marshal in, not to mention the stewardesses.
Ian A Bedford, Taiwan

The idea of guns on a plane does nothing to reassure me

Steve Price, UK
The idea of guns on a plane does nothing to reassure me. The security needs to be stronger on the ground. Give the intelligence community the resources to stop the terrorists travelling. This could be achieved by global ID database and international cooperation between all security services.
Steve Price, UK

No weapons for pilots. They could instead be protected by a sealed door to the cockpit. Would you ask a teacher to use a gun in order to protect children?
Antonella Molinelli, England

Yes, strengthen cockpit doors. But don't have an armed guard on the plane. What happens? He's overpowered, then they have a pistol. There should be some security, but the bottom line is, stop them getting on the plane.
Alexander Morrison, Scotland

Sealed cockpits and better aircraft design are a far better answer

Jon, UK
Sealed cockpits and better aircraft design are a far better answer than armed pilots. Ideally, the cockpit should only be accessible from outside the aircraft, and there should be no way of breaking through the bulkhead separating cockpit and cabin.
Jon, UK

Better to stop the terrorists getting on the plane in the first place, but stun-guns used by air marshals, with bio security devices to prevent the weapon being used by the wrong person may be a solution. Locking the cabin securely is so sensible, you have to wonder why it hasn't already been done? CCTV would have to be used to monitor the passengers, and knockout gas would have to be used in the event of an incident. I'd rather be gassed than crashed. If these measures are introduced the likelihood of them ever having to be used decreases.
Dominic Mason, England

You might as well arm bus drivers

Colin MacDonald, Scotland
Fantasy land. Pilots are ordinary peaceable family men and women, not a crack cadre of Wesley Snipes and Steven Segal wannabes. You might as well arm bus drivers and bank tellers, traffic wardens and teachers.
Colin MacDonald, Scotland

Sealed cockpits would make hijacking a thing of the past. We now need to view airplanes as potential weapons of destruction and should make it impossible for terrorists to gain control of them.
Raymond Monk, Germany

As a Yank who has lived in the UK, I would say the idea of armed pilots is preposterous. Guns cause far more problems than they resolve and the complications multiply when you add an airliner, passengers, pressurised cabin and the need for a safe landing. This is another knee-jerk reaction dreamed up by gun-toting idiots.
Max, USA

A better solution would be to have the pilots' compartment sealed off from the passengers' compartment. A canister of sleeping gas could be released into the passenger compartment in event of trouble. When the hijackers wake up they will be in jail!
Tom, UK

I'm all for it, as it would make an excellent deterrent

Drew, Pittsburgh, USA
I'm all for it, as it would make an excellent deterrent. Pilots are already responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers not to mention a multi-million dollar aircraft. In addition, they all must undergo psychological screening and many of them start their careers in the military. Low velocity ammunition could also be used to prevent a fuselage breach, and the depressurisation that would follow.
Drew, Pittsburgh, USA

Yes, pilots should have weapons to defend themselves, their passengers and their aircraft. In fact, passengers should also be able to carry weapons just as they do when in other public places. The concealed carrying of handguns by citizens has reduced, not increased, crime. A terrorist could expect violent and sudden opposition as soon as he declared his intentions.
Ron Carroll, US

Yes of course, and while we're at it lets give guns to bus conductors, train drivers and lollipop ladies. The answer is simply no. The only answer is to reduce the risks by increasing pre-flight security and restricting access to the cockpit. Arming civilians is just not an option. It would mean automatically that weapons would be on the plane for people to make use of one way or another!
Jon Haley, UK

Stricter security measures should be taken to prevent terrorists from boarding in the first place

Mary Miller, USA
I too was concerned about guns being fired in a pressurized cabin, until I read that air marshals use a form of ammunition that cannot penetrate the hull of an aircraft. So as a very last line of defence I have no problem with pilots being armed in the cockpit. I would also like to see cockpits made inaccessible and flight attendants trained in martial arts. Of course, stricter security measures should be taken to prevent terrorists from boarding in the first place.
Mary Miller, USA

Why not have non-fatal weapons such as CS spray or pepper spray, similar to those weapons used by some police forces. Then at least we will not lose an aircraft.
James Goddard, UK

The pilot ought to be flying the plane, not worrying about security and defence. If a situation requires an armed pilot to intervene it has already probably got out of control. The time it will take to respond and get out the cockpit is too long. More immediate action is required. A visibly armed guard is a sitting duck target and not too good for passenger relaxation. One or two specially trained and screened undercover guards strategically placed around the plane would be much better. They could react quickly, effectively and have a greater chance of stopping any problems, particularly if hijackers are only armed with knives.
BS McIntosh, Sweden (ex-UK)

It's a question of balance. We all have to be careful of knee jerk reactions. Long-term measures should take into account the fact that an airline is a business. I'd suggest any policy should be applied to all airlines. Sealing the cockpit would work but only if it was on all planes. Broadly lots of alternative solutions are available. Each should be given due consideration, without the emotional overhead we are currently experiencing. I'd argue that if someone really wants to hijack a plane they will find a way no matter what. Let's not forget that these people are not afraid of suicide.
Jonathon Clark, England

In my heart I believe that if the pilots had been armed the planes used in the attacks would never have made it to their targets. The only way they did was due to the terrorists killing the pilots first. We should have trained people armed with bullets that would kill the hijackers and not damage the plane.
Gregg, USA

Airline companies would be in the ridiculous position of providing terrorists with the tools they need

Chris, England
Weren't many of the terrorists involved in the recent atrocities qualified as commercial airline pilots? They could easily have gotten a job with a commercial airline. If terrorists can still penetrate the system, airline companies would be in the ridiculous position of providing them with the tools they need.
Chris, England

It would be much safer to have guards on a plane armed with advanced stun guns. Then a missed shot would be less likely to see everyone sucked out of the windows or suffocated.
Jason, UK

I believe the pilots should be securely locked into the cockpit. It is ridiculous that terrorists and hostage-takers can simply saunter into the cockpit with a knife.
Dave Jones, England

The airline industry in the US is aching and taxpayers' money is being squandered. The industry traditionally has not taken full responsibility for safety on planes and in airports. The money is best spent where it makes sense economically and in the interest of safety.
Kishan, USA

Airline pilots are highly trained and responsible individuals. I am sure they can be further trained to use a firearm. But we should think about whether a conventional gun is the safest weapon considering the dangers with firing a gun inside a pressurised cabin. Maybe electronic stun guns could be used, followed by a knock out injection once the terrorist is under control?
Stuart, UK

I'd prefer the pilot to be armed and able to regain some control

Nina, UK
If I was on a plane and a hijacker tried to take control, I'd prefer the pilot to be armed and able to regain some control, but perhaps a stun-gun would be a more practical option. In fact having witnessed air-rage it's probably a good idea to issue them to all cabin crew. Surely the bottom line is how do we stop terrorists getting into the country in the first place?
Nina, UK

Can we have a more sensible solution that involves securing the cabin door and making sure that only authorised personnel can access the cabin during flight?
Gareth, England

I can't see a problem with air marshals being employed, but how would that stop the terrorist who claims to have a bomb on board? Armed pilots are a good idea, if they're happy with it, and they receive training in how to use their weapons without hurting any passengers, puncturing the aircraft structure or having them used against them. Locked cockpit doors are also a good idea.
Sarah Bowyer, UK

Armed pilots would still be lured from the cockpit by the threat of violence to other passengers or members of the cabin crew

Stewart, London, UK
There is a high probability that armed pilots would still be lured from the cockpit by the threat of violence to other passengers or members of the cabin crew. As is so often the case with US domestic crime, the defending weapon would probably end up in the hands of the attacker saving them the trouble of smuggling weapons onto the plane in the first place.
Stewart, London, UK

I think the idea of arming airline employees is worth pursuing. While some may argue against this, I think that this is really the only option we have to prevent any such catastrophe from ever happening again.
Ross H, UK

People need to be able to defend themselves. We need to feel secure. My father was a fighter pilot and he carried a .22. Many pilots would be happy to go through training and I think it is imperative considering the situation at hand. I don't think a pilot feels that it is his/her only job duty to just fly a plane. They are responsible for many lives with or without terrorism. Military-type survival training for such a situation would cover all the aspects pilots would need to defend themselves without endangering the lives of passengers. I'm on their side on this one. It is not like handing a dummy a handgun. Pilots are intelligent and capable of handling a great deal of pressure.
Judi Engle, US

Why not lock the cockpits automatically before take off and open them after landing?
Sejal Dalal, India

There is no chance that a pilot would have the guts to shoot a man coming towards him with a knife. Surely a stun gun would be more appropriate. Putting a gun on board an aircraft is just asking for trouble and I think people would stop flying. Yes the world has gone mad but surely this is another step towards chaos!
Ross Holliday, Aberdeen, UK

I do not agree with anyone carrying a gun on a plane for obvious reasons. I think an alternative that should be considered is the use of stun guns that would disable a hijacker without the risk of causing damage to the aircraft.
Spencer Finn, UK

Sealed flight decks are the obvious solution. I am amazed that this is not already the industry standard.
Mal Reeves, UK

Sorry, but I refuse to accept the on-going line that guns = safety.
Alex, Australia

All airlines should follow El Al's example

Nicholas Arnold, UK
Arming pilots is not the answer, they are there to fly planes. However, all airlines should follow El Al's example and seal the cockpit with strong doors and have armed air marshals who are trained for fighting hijackers on planes to avoid the risk of depressurising the cabin
Nicholas Arnold, UK

I know that I personally do not want armed guards hovering over me when I go on a long haul flight. However, in light of the tragedy it would be much more understandable than ever before.
Matthew, UK

Not guns, due to the obvious flight safety implications, but why not some other anti-personnel weaponry, suited for the purpose? Stun grenade, pepper spray, CS gas - all of which need not be hand held, but possibly released remotely - would perhaps go some way to solving the dilemma. An armed terrorist on a flight deck is one situation few have experienced, and any discussion/solution regarding this issue ought to include someone who has at least experienced the situation first hand.
Paul Harding, UK

Pilots have enough to worry about without considering the need to engage in armed battle in the cockpit

James Dawkins, England
Absolutely not. Pilots have enough to worry about without considering the need to engage in armed battle in the cockpit. Surely the best way for pilots to protect themselves is to have 2 bullet-proof steel doors into the cockpit, neither of which can be opened at the same time as the other, with some kind of camera showing who is on the other side. In the event of an attempted forced entry the pilot(s) can divert to the nearest airfield.
James Dawkins, England

I think there should be CCTV in planes which are more susceptible for hijacking e.g. near Washington.
Gagan, UK

Yes but not with firearms. Give them (and the rest of the crew) gas canisters and make the passengers sign to say they won't sue the airline if they suffer collaterally from a discharge. Alternatively why not build chloroform into the air conditioning plant and subdue hijackers and passengers alike? At least you'd have no panicking.

We cannot arm civilian pilots, the cascade effect would be disastrous

Robert Scurr, UK
Providing pilots with guns would be the first step on a long road of arming numerous people. A train crashing into a crowded station would cause massive devastation and disruption. If the US armed its pilots then international flights would presumably have to be armed as well. This would then filter into the UK domestic market. If we arm civilians we must arm the police. If we arm the police, criminal usage of guns would rise, the public would insist on the right to bear arms. We cannot arm civilian pilots, the cascade effect would be disastrous.
Robert Scurr, UK

Interesting that many of those who are against flying are from the USA. Does this reflect the fact that in Europe we are more used to the terrorist threat? My thoughts are with all those around the world who have suffered as a result of what happened on 11 September. God Bless.
Richard Williams, UK

An admission of the failure of other security measures

Caroline, UK
I rather think that arming pilots is an admission of the failure of other security measures to prevent terrorists boarding planes. Terrorists are 'normal' people with strong beliefs defended by violent acts. It will never be possible to recognise them out of a crowd of others and thereby prevent them from doing their terrible deeds.
Caroline, UK

If pilots are to carry firearms how will that be any different to the average citizen being allowed to carry a firearm? At least when you fire off a round on the ground there is no risk of rapid decompression. Yes pilots have the right to defend themselves BUT allowing them to carry a firearm is NOT the answer.
Charlie, England

What would a pilot do with a gun when faced by terrorists with explosive strapped around their waists?
Derek, Portugal

If airlines want to increase safety on board planes then adding deadly weapons is not the way to do it. If pilots really feel the need for further protection why not issue tazer stun guns which have been proved to be far more effective and safer than conventional guns.
James Robbins, Netherland Antilles

I appreciate the need for tightened security but would armed pilots deter terrorists?

Liz Tring, UK
Good grief no!!!! I appreciate the need for tightened security but would armed pilots deter terrorists? Probably not. I think the prospect for accidents is greater than the need for pilots to be armed unless there is something they could be given that doesn't pose a massive risk to the aircraft and passengers.
Liz Tring, UK

Guns inside a pressurised cabin? Are they mad?
Randy, UK

The pilot's job is to fly planes, not to be security personnel. It takes a lot of skill to successfully shoot inside a airline cabin flying at 30,000 feet. If you miss and hit a window instead, the plane could depressurise causing it to plummet thousands of feet whilst starving the passengers of oxygen. If you must have armed guards on planes, they should be the employed by airports or government-run air transport authorities, not the airlines.
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Business
UN agency reviews airline security
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