Bush seeks safer skies

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush is scheduled to announce today a broad expansion of the federal role in aviation security in an effort to reassure worried travelers that it is safe to fly, congressional and aviation officials said Wednesday.

Bush will call for more government involvement in airport security screening, installation of airline cockpit doors capable of withstanding an assault, and what one lawmaker called a "dramatic" increase in the number of federal air marshals.

However, the president’s plan is expected to stop short of advocating a direct federal takeover of passenger screening, which is now in the hands of private companies hired by the airlines.

Instead, Bush favors much higher standards, better pay and closer federal oversight of screeners, as well the deployment of local law enforcement officers to airport security checkpoints, sources said. Administration officials also were considering a federally chartered nonprofit corporation to administer airport security.

As for arming pilots, a proposal by the Air Line Pilots Association, Bush indicated to reporters Wednesday that he is not enthusiastic about the idea. Congressional sources said it will not be part of his plan.

Among the measures under consideration was a proposal for video cameras to monitor airliner cockpits and cabins.

Other likely measures include wider use of a computer program that can identify passengers who pose a potential security threat, and an overhaul of anti-hijacking training for pilots and flight attendants, who now rely on manuals based on the rash of hijackings to Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s.

Congressional sources said Bush also will propose more federal funding to help airports pay for improved security.

The president plans to travel to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport today to make his announcement, along with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and a bipartisan congressional delegation.

"We’ll announce some confidence-boosting measures, some concrete proposals, and I believe we’ll be able to work with Congress to get them done in an expeditious way," Bush said. His comments in a brief session with reporters came at a White House meeting with Muslim and Arab American leaders.

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