by Jonathan D. Salant
WASHINGTON -- Abandoning the theory that cooperation with hijackers is the best way to protect passengers, the federal government wants flight crews to learn how to fight back.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which was forced to abandon its previous training manual in the wake of the September terrorist attacks, will release the updated guidance Friday.
The new FAA guidelines shift strategy from a more passive to a more active approach, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said. Flight attendants and pilots will be taught how to respond to several threats.
The guidelines include self-defense procedures for flight attendants – with criteria to be drafted by the FBI – and training to allow pilots to use the planes themselves as weapons to fight terrorists, by depressurizing the cabin or making sharp turns in the air, for example.
"It gives us a new strategy," said Capt. Dennis Dolan, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association. "It's going to be safer tomorrow than it was today."
The FAA had until Friday to publish new guidelines under provisions of the airline security act that Congress passed late last year. Among the requirements, airlines must develop new training programs within 60 days and submit them to the FAA for approval. Once the agency signs off, the airlines have six months to train their pilots and flight attendants.
The guidelines are silent on the question of whether guns or non-lethal weapons should be allowed on airplanes. The issue is still being studied; a National Institutes of Justice report on non-lethal weapons is due Feb. 17.
The new guidelines incorporate strategies that pilots and flight attendants developed on their own following the attacks, such as acting aggressively toward hijackers and calling on passengers to help respond to any problems in the cabin. Passengers helped subdue alleged shoe-bomber Richard Reid last month.
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"It is unrealistic to believe that ever again, a plane full of passengers will sit quietly when someone tells them, 'Sit quietly. Everything is going to be all right,'" said Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.