WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration is planning a small-scale test program of arming commercial pilots, reversing its previous opposition to guns in the cockpit.
The administration plan is expected to be modeled on proposals that circulated in Congress this summer, such as one that would have armed as many as 1,400 pilots -- or about 2 percent of those flying.
One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday evening the administration was on the brink of announcing the decision.
Transportation Undersecretary John Magaw, who headed the new Transportation Security Administration until July, said in May he would not allow pilots to carry guns. Reinforced cockpits and armed air marshals provide enough protection against terrorists who try to take over an airplane, Magaw said.
"The responsibility of the pilot is to control the aircraft," Magaw said. "The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement. Our position is make that cockpit as safe as we can, control that plane and get it on the ground."
Having thousands of armed pilots in airports would mean thousands of weapons that could fall into the wrong hands, Magaw said at the time. "We just don't want to subject the transportation system to additional firearms," he said.
But the House in July voted 310-113 to allow commercial pilots to carry guns, giving the proposal momentum, and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said soon afterward that he was re-examining the issue.
The administration is striving to reach a compromise between two camps -- those who strongly oppose arming pilots and those who want all pilots armed, a government official said.
The airlines generally opposed plans to arm pilots, while the pilots' union and the National Rifle Association back such proposals.
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