Bush tries to restore confidence in airlines with security measures

Thursday, September 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ President Bush sought to coax Americans back onto airplanes Thursday by putting the federal government in charge of airport security and pledging $500 million to upgrade security features on airplanes in hopes of thwarting future hijackings.

Bush urged governors to call up National Guard units to protect U.S. airports while he implements a long-term airline security plan.

``Get on the airlines, get about the business of America,'' Bush told hundreds of flag-waving airline workers at O'Hare International Airport. Two jets were parked nose-to-nose at the event _ one each from United Airlines and American Airlines, the carriers hijacked two weeks ago. The attacks left nearly 7,000 dead or missing.

Bush found a message in the two corporate logos: ``America is united!'' he said. ``We are united in bringing justice to those folks who did the evil deed on Sept. 11.'' As he spoke, departing jets roared overhead.

``We will not surrender our freedom to travel. We will not surrender our freedoms in America,'' Bush said, his voice rising to a shout. ``You may think you have struck our soul, you haven't touched it!''

Terrorists hijacked four airplanes Sept. 11, crashing two into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon outside Washington. A fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, apparently after passengers struggled with the hijackers. U.S. air travel has dropped sharply since the attacks.

``The American people are going to get back on your airplanes. They will, believe me, they'll be back on your planes,'' said Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

``I want to encourage people to take that business trip or the long-awaited vacation they have planned,'' said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, drawing a roar of appreciation from the workers.

Bush's plan includes:

_Expanding the use of federal air marshals aboard commercial airliners. ``The requirements and qualifications of federal air marshals are among the most stringent of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency,'' the White House said.

_Spending $500 million on plan modifications, including efforts to restrict the opening of cockpit doors during flights, fortify cockpit doors to deny access from the cabin, alert the cockpit crew to activity in the cabin and ensure continuous operation of the aircraft transponder in the event of an emergency. The transponder allows air controllers to track a plane.

_Putting the federal government in charge of airport security and screening, including the purchase and maintenance of all equipment. The government would supervise passenger and baggage security and perform background checks on security personnel. Uniformed federal workers would manage all operations; federal and nonfederal workers would share the security work. Many airport security workers would remain in the employ of private companies, but with increased oversight by the federal government.

Bush said he would invest in technologies that allow pilots to monitor passenger cabins by video camera, and let control towers take over ``distressed'' aircraft by remote control.

``Fully implementing the extensive security proposal may take four to six months,'' the White House statement said. ``During that time, the president will help ensure that every airport has a strong security presence by asking the governors of the 50 states to call up the National Guard _ at the federal government's expense _ to augment existing security staff at every commercial airport nationwide.''

White House officials said Bush also hopes to reopen Reagan National Airport outside Washington, the only airport still closed due to the Sept. 11 attacks, but is not yet convinced that flying there would be safe, aides said.

Bush's plan does not include arming pilots, action requested by the pilots themselves. ``There may be better ways to do it than that, but I'm open for any suggestion,'' Bush said Wednesday, as aides privately confirmed that he is cool to the idea.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta flew to Chicago aboard a commercial flight to demonstrate his confidence in the air system. He was accompanied by Jane Garvey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mineta waited in a long line at a BWI security checkpoint. He placed a leather bag on a scanner's conveyor belt, took out his keys and walked through the metal detector. It beeped, prompting a security guard to give Mineta a thorough sweep with a hand-held detector before allowing him onto Concourse A.

Mineta called the system safe, secure and stable.

Bush's father, the nation's 41st president, boarded a commercial flight in Boston for a trip to Houston, accompanied by several Secret Service agents.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the number of commercial flights each day had returned to near normal, now at about 5,500, compared with the maximum before the attacks of 6,500.

However, relatively few people are on those flights. Delta Air Lines, for example, says its planes typically are only 35 percent filled.