In a move designed to strengthen a maligned federal anti-terrorism initiative, the Transportation Security Administration plans to open an instruction site in New York City where airline flight crews can train in hand-to-hand combat.
The new training site, which is in a planning stage, is to bolster the Crew Member Self-Defense Program, a 2004 initiative introduced to shore up the front lines of airline defense against terrorists by offering voluntary self-defense classes to flight crews.
The program has been beset with criticism from security experts and plagued by paltry attendance, and the new site is part of a broader plan to revamp it.
By introducing new training sites such as the one in New York, the administration aims to make the program more accessible for flight crews, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshals, the agency that directs the training program, Conan Bruce, said.
New York has three international airports that are home base to thousands of flight attendants, and the new site will make it more convenient for airline crews to participate in the self-defense classes, officials said. Currently, there are 11 sites in cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia.
The national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, Lonny Glover, said the union is lobbying to make the program mandatory, but stipulates that flight crews are financially compensated for their time. He said the federal government has been reluctant to provide the funding.
Without a large enough budget to pay flight crews, the administration believes that making the program more accessible will placate those financial concerns, Mr. Bruce said.
In response to feedback from stakeholders in the airline industry, the administration also shortened the length of the training sessions. Instead of three-day sessions, for which crew members were expected to pay for their lodging and board, the new classes run one day. Crew members are given a DVD and a student manual with training tips prior to attending the course so they can prepare for the classes on their own time, Mr. Bruce said.
"When they come in, that one day is intensive," he said.
Still, some experts say more needs to be done to properly train flight attendants.
A national security expert and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Joseph King, said that if the federal government was serious about securing airplanes, the classes would be mandatory and flight attendants would be required to meet high levels of physical fitness.
"The program is a typical federal idea for a Band-Aid," he said.