Daily Breeze

April 04, 2003

Senate rejects airline anti-missile spending

By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly rejected a bid to add $30 million to a wartime spending bill Thursday to initiate a plan to equip passenger jets with anti-missile technology.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was turned back on a 50-47 vote.

Opponents argued that more study was needed before money is appropriated for the initiative, which would be designed to protect passenger jets from shoulder-fired missiles that terrorist groups are thought to possess.

“There is no current technology that can fulfill this need. These systems are very heavy. They’re too heavy for most commercial aircraft,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said.

But Boxer and other proponents said technology being used to protect military aircraft could be modified for civilian use for about $1 million per plane.

“It is possible to do this. El Al is doing this,” Boxer said, referring to the Israeli airline.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted that Boxer recently succeeded in amending an air cargo security bill in committee to require the Department of Homeland Security to report to Congress on the feasibility of defending aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles.

“I think an orderly study, which we could act on in a couple of months, would be most appropriate,” he said.

Boxer countered that the threat against airlines “has been rising.” She cited reports that the federal government is planning to order security improvements at major airports because of concerns about the lightweight, portable weapons.

“This is not inconsistent with (a study). This will just move it along a little quicker,” she said.

The $30 million Boxer sought would have funded research on and development of an anti-missile system and its initial deployment on a few planes. She is sponsoring separate legislation that would require commercial jets to be equipped with the systems by the end of this year.

The federal government would cover the cost of equipping existing airliners, estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion.