And a special Irish government security committee is expected to meet next week to discuss just how the Irish airline might incorporate the presence of guns on aircraft should a specific request come from Washington.
“We have had no specific request, but our response to Homeland Security is absolutely, we’ll comply,” Brian Murphy, Aer Lingus vice president for marketing and sales in North America, said this week. “If you can’t comply, you have to cancel.”
The Bush administration, by way of homeland security chief Tom Ridge, issued an emergency order just after Christmas requiring foreign airlines to carry armed air marshals on flights into and out of the U.S., and flights traveling through U.S. airspace, if the U.S. government determines there is a specific threat to national security.
If an airline refuses to comply with a U.S. request for armed marshals on a specific flight, that flight, according to a New York Times report, will be denied entry into American airspace.
It could turn out that Aer Lingus will not be asked at any point to carry an armed security person or detail on board one of its transatlantic flights. But if a request is made in the near future the necessary expertise will most likely be supplied by the Garda Siochana’s Emergency Response Unit.
The ERU, the Garda’s version of a SWAT team, is trained in the use of a variety of weapons and to deal with a range of life-and-death situations. Members undergo part of their training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
However, it is likely that members of the ERU would have to be newly trained to deal with the kind of uniquely dangerous situations that would be presented by armed hijackers seizing a pressurized airliner in mid-flight.
The U.S. has indicated that it will step in to provide specialized training requested on behalf of a non-U.S. airline.
Other Irish security personnel that could be drawn upon to provide security on Aer Lingus flights include members of the Garda Special Branch and the Irish Army Rangers, whose members are already trained in dealing with hijack situations on the ground.
“The Rangers are trained to leap over seats in an aircraft and perhaps that might not be quite what would be required,” a source familiar with Ranger training said.
The meeting of the special Irish government committee charged with overseeing national and aviation security is set to take place next week against the backdrop of the first major European Union gathering in Dublin hosted by the Irish government as part of Dublin’s six-month presidency of the EU.
The committee includes representatives from a number of government departments as well as representatives of airlines, the police and armed forces.