Who's Protecting Airline Passengers?

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Federal Air Marshals perform tactical training

In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, aviation security officials made an easy decision: to rapidly revive the federal air marshals. FAMs are well-trained armed guards who fly on "high threat" commercial flights. But the program had dwindled so dramatically over its 30 years that there were fewer than 50 of the officers on duty Sept. 11.

After the attacks, Administration officials signaled that there would soon be thousands of them — enough to cover every one of the 30,000 daily flights in the U.S. "We'll have many more air marshals on flights," President Bush boasted last October. But many pilots, flight attendants and airline-operations personnel from carriers across the country tell Time they have never had a FAM on any of their flights. A Transportation Security Administration spokesman says virtually all information about the FAM program, including the budget, is classified and can't be discussed. But the agency has opened a second air-marshal training center. "FAMs will be a significant presence on flights," the spokesman said. He just didn't say when.