From a pilot's point of view, any development that threatens overall control of the aircraft undermines his or her authority in an emergency.

International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations president Capt Dennis Dolan says that whether it is a major mechanical failure or airborne hijacking, pilots need to have "every piece of relevant information" to hand if they are to make the right decisions to bring aircraft and passengers to a safe landing.

IFALPA is adamant in opposing the use of guns on board aircraft, taking the view that ground-based security systems should ensure that passengers and baggage are fully screened. While this is the long-term goal, which awaits improved technology, Dolan says that until then "we realise that sky marshals should form one of the many layers of security contributing to a safe system".

Pilots have a right to know if there are armed personnel on board their aircraft, says Dolan. "It is a very serious issue having guns on an aircraft," he adds.

Lufthansa, Swiss, Singapore Airlines and Qantas already have protocols for engaging hijackers, agreed with pilots. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are following suit. While the details are classified, Dolan says: "We know that there is already a great deal of information passing between participating airlines."

US pilots' unions campaigned hard after 11 September for legislation allowing pilots to be armed, and in November 2002, President George Bush signed into law the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, under which pilots could volunteer for training allowing them to carry guns aboard aircraft. Only very few have applied, however, because they object to the demanding training programme, which includes a 3h psychological examination, seen by most as too invasive and potentially career threatening.

Source: Flight International