Should Airline Pilots Be Armed?

The nation's largest pilots' union wants Congress to allow its members to carry guns in the cockpit, a measure almost unthinkable before the Sept. 11 hijackings of four commercial jetliners.

The change represents a dramatic reversal in the longstanding position of the Air Line Pilots Association, which has 67,000 members in North America.

"This is a new real threat that needs a real solution in real time," union president Capt. Duane Woerth, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today.

In testimony before House lawmakers today, Woerth said he would formally ask Congress to change regulations so pilots can voluntarily carry weapons.

Weapons Would Be Optional

Under the proposal, pilots would not be required to carry firearms. They would also have to undergo psychological testing and background checks, and extensive firearms training. They would ultimately be deputized as federal law enforcement officials.

Woerth said pilots would be provided with frangible bullets made of highly compressed, powdered alloys rather than solid lead or other metals such as those used in standard handgun bullets. Such softer metal bullets are designed to shatter on harder surfaces which may make them safer to use on in-flight airplanes. "They are very destructive to human tissue, but it's very unlikely they would do any serious damage to the fuselage, and not such that would cause a depressurization problem," he said.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey said Monday that two weeks ago this was not an idea she would have considered, but acknowledged that her agency is "challenging every assumption. Our principal goal is to make sure passengers are safe and secure, that the flight crews are safe and secure, it is an idea we are absolutely willing to look at."

A potential bill allowing pilots to be armed would not be without serious opposition. Airline industry sources say carriers are concerned about the idea, and worried that in case of future hijacking attempts, the guns could end up in the wrong hands.

Woerth said pilots are aware of the additional risk involved with carrying weapons. "We think the benefits outweigh those risks. With the procedures we're proposing as well as a better secure door, we think these specially trained officers — which they will be — will be able to responsibly protect their weapon," Woerth said.

The proposal is one of a number of new airline security regulations to be aired in the wake of the attacks, in which hijackers armed with knives commandeered four planes, crashing two into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon near Washington. One plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 7,000 people are dead or missing in the attacks.

ABCNEWS' Lisa Stark contributed to this report.