The federal government has given approval for Korean Air Lines Co. to arm its crew members with stun guns aboard flights to and from the United States, but few other carriers have shown an interest in arming pilots with non-lethal weapons, the Transportation Security Administration said yesterday.
Korean Air has for years trained crew members on its international flights to carry Tasers, a kind of stun gun that shoots a thin wire at an attacker and delivers a high-voltage dose of electricity upon contact. The carrier received TSA approval last week to expand the practice to its 50 daily flights to the United States, Korean Air officials said. It will pay for the training and the weapons, made by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International Inc., the TSA said.
Korean Air spokeswoman Penny Pfaelzer said the carrier plans to arm "specially trained personnel in the aircraft," but declined to specify whether pilots or flight attendants or both would be armed.
The weapons cost about $400 apiece and are widely used by law enforcement agencies.
The idea of arming pilots and flight attendants with non-lethal weapons became popular after the terrorist attacks in 2001. But stun guns lost their appeal after Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation allowing commercial airline pilots to carry guns. Thousands of pilots representing every U.S. carrier are now trained to carry guns in the cockpit, and the TSA has long lists of volunteers for the two classes of training per week that it conducts at government expense in Artesia, N.M., TSA spokesman Mark O. Hatfield Jr. said.
UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and its regional carrier Mesa Air Group Inc. applied to the TSA to allow their pilots to carry Tasers after the terrorist attacks, but the applications are no longer active, according to the agency.
United said its Chapter 11 filing for protection from its creditors forced it to delay its application, even though it bought 1,200 Tasers and trained its pilots how to use them. "We still plan on moving forward with the program" after emerging from bankruptcy protection, said United spokesman Jeff Green.
Mesa Air Group said it is still interested in stun guns for its crews, but it is waiting for other agencies' guidance to develop training, according to spokeswoman Linda Larsen.
"There's no indication for a rush to apply for these devices, but we will certainly consider any application we receive," Hatfield said.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said it was not interested in arming pilots with stun guns, given that pilots can volunteer to carry lethal weapons through the TSA program. Southwest Airlines Co., which had indicated an earlier interest in stun guns, said it was not interested "at this time." Delta Air Lines Inc. said it has never been interested in stun guns.
Thomas P. Smith, president of Taser International, said some carriers have been waiting for the TSA to grant its first approval before they follow suit. Now that Korean Air has received approval, he said, "I'm going to start going back to [the airlines]." The company's stock rose 16.4 percent, to $54.12, in Nasdaq trading yesterday.
Security experts said it's questionable how useful stun guns could be aboard commercial airplanes, now that pilots are armed and cockpit doors are fortified, said Doug Laird, former director of security at Northwest Airlines Corp.