Transportation Secretary seeks military security on airplanes
"We're asking for expeditious treatment and action by DoD to give us some Delta Force folks," Mineta told a briefing at which he announced the reopening of the nation's commercial aviation system.
Mineta suggested the Delta Force members, a specially trained anti- terrorist group deployed during the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979, were already trained to deal with many of the issues marshals would face.
Mineta also seemed to dismiss suggestions that airport security be federalized, saying he was "not sure Congress is going to want to bear that additional cost to taxpayers," but added that the department was considering it. Congress is considering a $20 billion emergency supplemental spending measure, some of which will likely go to improving air travel security.
"The reopening of our national airspace is good news for travelers, for the airlines and for our economy," Mineta said. "But I must caution everyone that a system as diverse and complex as ours cannot be brought back up instantly."
He noted that airports will be reopened on a case-by-case basis. In addition, Mineta said Justice and Treasury Department officers would be deployed to provide additional security at airports, and there would be no mail or cargo allowed on passenger planes for now. However, commercial cargo planes would also be allowed to fly, beginning today.
At the briefing, Mineta also suggested that on board airplanes "we do need trained personnel on the use of weapons in an aluminum cylinder flying through the air," but declined to criticize any airline or government aviation personnel for their actions Tuesday.
When the third terrorist-controlled plane found its target in the Pentagon, Mineta said he ordered the aviation system to be shut down. He praised Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers for bringing down the 2,100 planes already in the air to safety in less than two hours.
On Wednesday, Mineta urged passengers to be patient, as airports will need to check planes before passengers can board, discontinue curbside check-in, limit gate access to only passengers, and implement other security efforts.
The Air Transport Association, which represents most major U.S. carriers, issued a statement on its Web site Thursday, calling on FAA to nationalize the air passenger screening process, deploy armed federal officials to airports, and deploy air marshals.
"Even as we continue the search, rescue and recovery efforts, we must restore the confidence, customer service and commerce of the air transport system," said Carol Hallett, ATA's president and CEO.