High-flying ideas to keep planes in the air

As a 767 international captain for American Airlines and a 24-year aviation veteran, I was disappointed in President Bush's speech on airline security. Long lines at airports are eyewash without real security benefit. While I support the sky-marshal program, it will take years to cover a small percentage of flights. Same for stronger cockpit doors: The reality isn't easy, especially with narrow-body aircraft and FAA red tape. Our air-traffic computers are driven by equipment from the Johnson administration - so why do we give the FAA credibility? The biggest disappointment was the president's refusal to allow pilots - who are properly trained - to carry firearms. I am responsible for the safety of my aircraft, crew, and passengers. I deserve every means to carry out that responsibility. It is unconscionable that an Air Force fighter can shoot down a civilian airliner, but the aircraft's pilots are not allowed to defend it.

Tom Snelling Key Biscayne, Fla.

I question the assumption that air marshals must be equipped with lethal guns. Firearms aren't needed to match hijacker guns, because hijackers can't get guns onto planes - and you needn't kill hijackers to stop a hijacking. They can be disabled and disarmed with sleep darts, stun guns, or devices that spray tangle-webs. A real firearm fired in a mid-air struggle could kill or maim passengers. The goal is to stop an attack. The impulse to go beyond that and kill the attacker is an irrational desire for revenge. Furthermore, killing a hijacker deprives us of the chance to bring him to justice.

Jeff Johnson San Francisco

The following is a safe, easy solution to hijackings. When a flight attendant sees a hijacking in progress, she presses a remote transmitter. Alerted, the captain views images from cabin cameras. The cockpit crew goes on oxygen, and with the push of a button, fills the cabin with sleep-inducing gas. The plane arrives at its destination. Passengers awake alive and well; hijackers awake in handcuffs - without an in-flight meal.

David Smith Sandia Park, N.M.

Try this: Seal the cockpit, once in flight. A rectangular, plastic key is produced by a three-dimensional printer, and once used to seal the cockpit, it is destroyed on takeoff. Instructions to produce a new key are sent to a printer at the destination airport, and the key is printed as the plane lands.

Martin Richards Bozeman, Mont.

The US military flies large, pilotless drone aircraft under remote control. Commercial passenger aircraft should be able to fly under remote control, too - operated from the ground or from a nearby plane - and thus deny hijackers control of the aircrafts. This capability must be used circumspectly, as the consequences of it falling into the wrong hands could be more disastrous than the problem.

James F. Tracy Livermore, Calif.

Cockpits must become fortresses, and pilots must be inaccessible to terrorists. Ultimately, this requires cockpits that are self-supporting with food, water, and bathrooms. Airlines must design cockpit doors on the model of bank-vault doors, able to sustain damage from armed terrorists.

Rich Carroll Highlands Ranch, Colo.

I was shocked to hear our president and secretary of Defense say it had never occurred to them that a passenger plane could be a weapon of mass destruction. It had occurred to me. Our problem may be a lack of imaginative people in the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service. They need artists, writers, and creatures to whom imagination is life.

Dan Cooper Los Gatos, Calif.

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