Bush unveils $500m plan to make flying safer

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The Independent US

President George W. Bush, today announced plans to establish a $500 million fund to pay for modifications to improve security of aircraft cockpits.

He also urged State governors to call up National Guard units to protect US airports while he implements a long-term security plan. The plan includes putting the federal government in charge of airport security.

The White House released an outline of the President's long-anticipated plan shortly before the president was due to leave for Chicago, where he was discussing the security plan with airline workers.

Bush said he was offering the "confidence-boosting measures and some concrete proposals" to "convince the American public it is safe to fly."

"One of my concerns is that this terrible incident has convinced many Americans to stay at home," he said. "And one of the keys to economic recovery is going to be the vitality of the airline industry."

The Bush 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 statement said.

–Spend $500m 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.

–Put 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.

"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."

President Bush's trip to Chicago was the second time he has traveled on Air Force One since the Sept. 11 jetliner attacks on New York and Washington that left nearly 7,000 dead.

White House officials said the administration has left several other options under consideration, including installing cameras to monitor jetliner cabins.

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.