Pilots carry guns in the cockpit

(SZ of 09/26/01) - Anyone who is under 37 years of age, has at least three years of work experience or a college degree, has an American passport and wants to earn up to $ 80,000 currently has a good chance of an exciting job. At least that is how the US aviation authority advertises on its website. However, the FAA makes no secret of possible burdens and dangers: irregular working hours, little contact with the family and trips to "unsafe countries where there is a high risk of terrorism against the USA" could be expected by the future "Federal Air Marshals" .

For security reasons, the FAA keeps how many of these air policemen should be hired, as does the training of the air marshals. According to the Washington headquarters, you will travel "anonymously on selected flights".

Applicants: police officers and soldiers

A large number of highly qualified security professionals such as police officers and soldiers have already come forward, says FAA chief Jane Garvey, and a new group would start training every three days.

The Air Marshals may not be the only ones carrying weapons on board a machine in the future. On Tuesday, America's largest pilots' association demanded before a committee of Congress that the cockpit crew be allowed to carry pistols so that they can defend themselves against a terrorist attack in an emergency.

Weapons on board - yes or no?

Garvey thinks the Air Line Pilots Association's proposal is worth considering. But not all security experts are enthusiastic. Because until now, the FAA's philosophy has been to keep weapons off board, also because a bullet impact can cause a machine to crash in the worst case.

According to the FAA, however, the marshals carry weapons, the ammunition of which penetrates the soft tissues of the body but does not penetrate the top of the skull - and therefore does not pose a risk to the walls of the aircraft. According to Garvey, bulletproof doors, which are supposed to protect the pilots in the cockpit, are also currently under discussion.

Armament on land and in the air

While the air is only gradually upgrading, US airports have drastically tightened their security measures in the last two weeks. Just a few days after the attacks, the FAA banned the outdoor check-in, which is common in many places, where the cars drive up.

Also, as has long been the norm in Europe, passengers with a ticket are only allowed to pass through the security gates. Picking up friends and relatives at the gate is no longer possible.

Private security companies under fire

Most of the private companies that are responsible for screening passengers and luggage have received harsh criticism. Long before the attack, experts had complained that the staff was poorly trained and paid - with the result that the screeners quit their job at the security gates on average after less than a year. At the end of September, the FAA will issue new guidelines according to which employees should be trained and monitored.

The US government is not very enthusiastic about demands to turn the previously poorly paid security personnel into federal officials. Because then the Bush administration would have to hire 28,000 men and women, the costs would amount to 1.8 billion dollars annually according to estimates by the Department of Transportation.

Computer finds suspects

Civil rights organizations have meanwhile partially criticized the tightened security controls. The American Civil Liberties Union says it is right to better audit, pay and monitor staff. But the ACLU rejects the stricter verification of passengers - for example with thumbprints or scanning the iris - because it would mean a "national recognition system".

A few years ago, the ACLU had run into a storm against a computer surveillance system. Largely unnoticed by the public, the FAA had prescribed new software for the airlines: Caps, short for Computer Assisted Passenger Screening Program, selects passengers according to certain criteria before departure. The suspects must then expect stricter controls.

Cash payers in sight

Airlines do not want to comment to what extent they use caps and what criteria the software uses to weed out potential criminals. According to a report by the online magazine Wired, Caps tracks down people with a foreign, especially Arabic-sounding surname. Anyone who pays for a ticket in cash or has only booked the one-way flight is also suspect.