T Nation

Arming Pilots: Good or Bad?

I know many of us are gun owners and many carry (legally)concealed.

You for or against pilots being armed, and is the TSA making it too difficult?

Arming of pilots hits turbulence By Andrew Zajac Washington Bureau
Mon May 2, 9:40 AM ET

The pistol-packing pilot was supposed to be the last line of defense against a terrorist who managed to get into a cockpit.

But now, more than two years after Congress sanctioned a training program to deputize aviators and allow them to carry guns in the cockpit, it’s believed that only about 5,000–a little more than 5 percent of the estimated 95,000 commercial pilots in the country–are armed while they fly.

Pilot advocacy groups say there’s a pent-up demand of as many as 40,000 pilots willing to arm themselves, but they charge that the Bush administration has deliberately undermined the program by making training inconvenient and insisting on an awkward protocol for transporting weapons.

“I think the program was designed right from the start to discourage pilots,” said Paul Onorato, vice president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which includes pilot unions representing Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

Indeed, airline industry management opposed arming pilots and has never warmed to the program.

It doesn’t help that the training for flight deck officers is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration, a troubled agency with dwindling responsibilities within the Department of Homeland Security.

Pilots who want to carry a weapon must submit to background checks and psychological screenings on top of the mandatory semi-annual evaluations required to keep their certification to fly.

Candidates then must take a week of training on their own time in Artesia, N.M., a three-hour ride from the nearest regional airport, in El Paso, Texas.

TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter disputed the notion that the application and training regimen are unduly burdensome, or that there is a huge backlog of pilots frustrated by the program’s requirements.

“It’s TSA’s responsibility to ensure that everyone in the [Federal Flight Deck Officer] program is fit and qualified. Not everyone is appropriate for this role,” von Walter said.

She declined to disclose the precise number of federal flight deck officers for security reasons, saying only that it was in the thousands. Industry estimates hover around 5,000.

Training involves classroom work and drills that teach defensive tactics and target shooting, including unsheathing and firing a standard issue .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol from the awkward position of a cockpit seat.

Pilots are taught that their firearms can be used only to defend against a direct attack to the cockpit.

Therein lies a major rub for many pilots.

Because their law-enforcement authority begins and ends on the flight deck, pilots are required to stow their guns in a locked metal box whenever they’re out of the cockpit.

Anger among pilots

At a minimum, most pilot groups want to get rid of that requirement and allow pilots to wear guns in holsters, like other law-enforcement officers.

“If you [leave the cockpit] to go to the bathroom, you have to take the gun off and put it in the box,” said Steve Luckey, a retired pilot who chairs the national security committee of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents pilots at United, Continental, Delta and Northwest airlines, among others. The restrictions force pilots to handle guns more often, increasing the chances for an accident, he said.

Other pilot groups want the TSA to go further, eliminating or cutting back the extra screening for prospective flight deck officers, and supplying badges to go with paper credentials, so pilots can quickly identify themselves as law-enforcement officers.

But the agency is adamant that pilots shouldn’t carry firearms outside of the flight deck and have no need for badges.

“The cockpit is their jurisdiction. Period. End of story,” von Walter said.

She said there have been no known deliberate or accidental gun discharges in the program.

Michael Boyd, a Denver-based aviation consultant, said that behind the haggling about protocol and procedure lies a fundamental dispute between those who view arming pilots as a low-cost, last-ditch line of defense against air piracy, and the Bush administration and much of the airline industry, which believes that allowing a gun on an airplane invites unacceptable risk.

“It’s a judgment call,” he said.

Pilots note that they already deal with immense responsibility and stress and that “if you’ve given him a 747 to fly, then he can handle a .38,” Boyd said.

TSA flatly rejects such equivalence. “Being fit to fly a plane does not mean that they’re fit to use deadly force,” von Walter said. “That’s what makes this position unique in law enforcement.”

Air carriers worry that the widespread arming of pilots could send the wrong signal about airport security improvements, said Jalal Haidar, an aviation security official with the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.

Bag and passenger screening has been upgraded and cockpit doors reinforced since the flight deck officer program was authorized by Congress, according to Haidar, the former chief of operations at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Hollow victory

Pilots won the first round of the debate to authorize guns on the flight deck, successfully lobbying a Congress still sensitive to security considerations following the airliner hijackings in the Sept. 11 attacks. But after approving enabling legislation in November 2002, lawmakers left the details up to the administration, which crafted the stringent guidelines.

Last year, Congress made cargo pilots eligible to carry guns, but it passed on the chance to loosen procedures to make it easier for pilots with military backgrounds to arm themselves.

Adding a measure of confusion to the program is the uncertain future of the TSA, much of which is being dismantled and parceled out to other agencies.

Von Walter said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is conducting a review of the department, which will help determine where the armed pilot program will land.


Arming the pilot certainly didn’t help him in Con Air.

I say let’em arm themselves. The security in terminals is bullshit. Con Air was a movie, when has a movie ever accurately represented real life? Now I do agree with keeping the weapon in the cockpit, too easy to jump an armed pilot on his way to/from the john.

I’m all for it. RLTW

rangertab75

I’m all for arming appropriately trained authorities. Unforunately, at some point if one of these guys goes off his rocker we’ll knee-jerk the other way again.

. o O (Note to resident ass-clown, this is probably not a DNC talking point.)

I am for it. I am also for the pilots entering the plane from a different door so there is NO way into the cockpit during the flights.

I think the tsa is a bit overkill on alot of things though, on a recent flight my boss got nailed for a small pair of nail scissors. Yet the steel file and steel pick were ok. The scissors could not cut anything and the other tools were just as pointy and “Dangerous”.


Thumbs up on arming the pilots.

I think arming the pilots would be a good thing. Definitely would have stopped some assholes with boxcutters.

Aren’t pilots the only people in the US who aren’t packing?

Personally, I know quite a few pilots and I wouldn’t trust them with a handgun. They would be more likely to shoot the windscreen than any terrorist.

However, given that many pilots have military backgrounds, I see no problem with giving people with proper training means to protect themselves. Whether the current levels of training are adequate is another issue.

I notice they didn’t once mention it was perfectly fine to carry for 40 YEARS until just two months prior to 9/11.

Armed pilots banned 2 months before 9-11
FAA rescinded rule allowing guns in cockpits just before terror attacks
May 16, 2002
By Jon Dougherty
2002 WorldNetDaily

A 40 year old Federal Aviation Administration rule that allowed commercial airline pilots to be armed was inexplicably rescinded two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, leading aviation security experts to lay at least some of the blame for the tragedy at the feet of airlines, none of which took advantage of the privilege while it was in effect.

The FAA adopted the armed pilot rule shortly after the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 to help prevent hijackings of American airliners. It remained in effect for four decades.

But in July 2001 - just two months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks - the rule was rescinded.

US aviation received 52 al-Qaeda warnings before 9/11
Times Online
February 11, 2005
America’s aviation authority received numerous warnings about al-Qaeda attacks in the six months before 9/11, including five that mentioned hijackings and two that mentioned suicide operations, it has emerged.

An average of two warnings a week for six months - what better time to rescind a 40 year rule.

In another bizarre “coincidence”, that’s right around the same time when Ashcroft quit flying commercial.

Ashcroft Flying High
July 26, 2001
CBS News
In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a “threat assessment” by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.

“There was a threat assessment and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines,” an FBI spokesman said. Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.

But the important thing is that the Iraqi people are finally free, and isn’t that all that really matters.

[quote]vroom wrote:
I’m all for arming appropriately trained authorities. Unforunately, at some point if one of these guys goes off his rocker we’ll knee-jerk the other way again.

. o O (Note to resident ass-clown, this is probably not a DNC talking point.)[/quote]

nahh…if the pilot goes coocoo and hauls out his gun to be stupid the co pilot and flight attendants can haul out theirs and stop him.
No biggie.

Vroom, I kinda wish you hadn’t said “appropriately trained authorities”.
That makes it sound as if you’re granting some sort of status to the pilots that they may not deserve.

Joe, they are responsible for the plane and so on. I mean, on a transatlantic flight or something, who’s the boss?

What a nit picker you are!

sorry, not trying to pick nits, and I didn’t put it well.

Well they definately should not be walking out of the cockpit with a friggin gun holstered to thier hip. With a little practice someone can snatch that thing in a second or two, then… everyone on the plane is basically fucked. It’s gotta be used only as a defense of the cockpit to avoid turning the plane into a weapon.

The other problem is shooting at someone hostile, when sitting neatly in rows behind that person is probably a couple hundred passengers. If they do ever have to pull the trigger on someone, I really hope they are a good shot.

I actually just think it would be easier to isolate the cockpit with a seriously reinforced door. no extra training, no bullshit chance for someone to rush the cockpit and wrestle a gun out. it would just be better to put the pilots behind a couple inches of metal and lock the friggin door.

V

If they can be trusted to handle the airplane without breaking it, they can be trusted to carry a gun.

[quote]JustTheFacts wrote:
I notice they didn’t once mention it was perfectly fine to carry for 40 YEARS until just two months prior to 9/11.

…[/quote]

The aviation agency said, however, that throughout the life of the rule not a single U.S. air carrier took advantage of it, effectively rendering it “moot,” according to one agency official.

I like the idea. It’s workable and a good deterrent. The argument that the Captain is responsible for the plane is a valid one in my opinion. He should have the tools.

As to leaving the cockpit armed. Absolutely. A weapon is no good if you don’t have it. A secure holster and a lanyard should secure the weapon very well and not be ontrusive in a confined space.

In today’s flying environment even basic weapons retention skills should give the pilot time to get reinforcement from a score of passengers.

The only people I want holding guns on an airplane are trained law enforcement; definitely not a pilot that took a 3 day course on gun safety taught by the government. Have you actually looked at your pilots the last few times you got on a plane?

I think some of you are confusing this with the right to personal gun ownership and aren’t thinking this through all the way.

My husband is a commercial pilot. He flew with the Air Force for 27 years, the final 17 with the active AFR. He did qualify annually and often carry a gun while flying for the Air Force, as have many commercial pilots flying today.

Under new TSA rules, he has had his nose-hair trimming sissors (about 1/4 inch long) and corkscrew (long layovers) confiscated.

I don’t understand this part. He is in uniform (looks like an old pilot…silver haired, slightly seditary, run down suitcase), he carries clearly visible ID. He is acknowledged as a pilot, and allowed to enter the cockpit and lock the door behind him…then command that aircraft for however long is required in flight. They trust him to fly, they just don’t trust him to fly with nose-hair trimmers or a corkscrew. If an intruder were to actually get access to the cockpit, he would have nothing to defend himself, his crew, his aircraft and passengers with except maybe his sunglasses, tie clip, or possibly a fire extinguisher.

How does this make any sense. If he wanted to crash an aircraft, he certainly wouldn’t need nose-hair trimmers or a corkscrew to do so!

Give em guns…believe me they love their aircraft, they value their own lives, and would die defending their passengers. They aren’t prone to making stupid or irrational decisions during times of crises.

[quote]Rebecca wrote:
My husband is a commercial pilot. He flew with the Air Force for 27 years, the final 17 with the active AFR. He did qualify annually and often carry a gun while flying for the Air Force, as have many commercial pilots flying today.

Under new TSA rules, he has had his nose-hair trimming sissors (about 1/4 inch long) and corkscrew (long layovers) confiscated.

I don’t understand this part. He is in uniform (looks like an old pilot…silver haired, slightly seditary, run down suitcase), he carries clearly visible ID. He is acknowledged as a pilot, and allowed to enter the cockpit and lock the door behind him…then command that aircraft for however long is required in flight. They trust him to fly, they just don’t trust him to fly with nose-hair trimmers or a corkscrew. If an intruder were to actually get access to the cockpit, he would have nothing to defend himself, his crew, his aircraft and passengers with except maybe his sunglasses, tie clip, or possibly a fire extinguisher.

How does this make any sense. If he wanted to crash an aircraft, he certainly wouldn’t need nose-hair trimmers or a corkscrew to do so!

Give em guns…believe me they love their aircraft, they value their own lives, and would die defending their passengers. They aren’t prone to making stupid or irrational decisions during times of crises.[/quote]

Ummm, no. I don’t trust all pilots with guns because your husband is a good pilot, sorry. Does your husband get drunk before flying?

I agree with the nose-hair trimmers, but how you made a leap to guns I don’t understand. Hey, here’s a crazy thought: How about we eliminate the need to protect the cockpit by making it inaccessible from within the plane? Actually, no, that’s a stupid idea, because it actually solves the problem. A better idea is GUNS!!!