Shoot-outs in the sky possible, in the name of security

Green MP Keith Locke has warned against the danger of legally allowing foreign armed air marshals onto planes coming into New Zealand, as proposed by the Aviation Security Legislation Bill introduced into Parliament today.

“The cure seems worse than the condition. The New Zealand Government should not be authorising an armed security officer from a foreign country to discharge a gun in the confined space of a pressurised aircraft cabin that will quite possibly be full of New Zealand citizens,” Mr Locke says.

“We must not be panicked by the US reaction to the security threats that it envisages. Current law does not allow weapons to be discharged on board an aircraft in the event of a security incident.

“New Zealand is clearly coming under financial pressure to accept the presence of armed air marshals. As the Bill’s explanatory note says, Air New Zealand could sustain the revenue loss from an occasional flight cancellation caused by security concerns, but could not afford to do so if countries regularly advised of security concerns, and we had not bowed to letting armed air marshals on board in response.

“The Green Party strongly oppose airlines putting their financial returns ahead of the risk posed to their passengers by giving armed security officers the legal right to use their weapons in mid air. The chances of accidents, or cowboy responses, are obvious — especially when the Bill’s explanatory note says the potential weapons available to hijackers include ‘liquid explosive disguised as a sports drink.’

“We don’t need to give into the US pressures, and we should not rubberstamp legislation that aims to give wide powers of search and seizure to airline security staff who are not sworn Police officers.

“Fears about cowboy behaviour by unsworn air marshals is not unfounded. Between late 2001 and mid 2003, Time magazine has reported, there were 600 reports of misconduct involving US air marshals, including one who drew a gun on someone who had taken his airline parking space,” Mr Locke says.