Times magazine has an interesting article on armed airline pilots, noting that they are now making more flights than are air marshals!
In his state of the union address, President Bush singled out federal air marshals—undercover armed agents who fly on U.S. airlines—for helping make "our homeland safer." But he neglected to mention a flying security force that has quietly grown even larger than the marshals: the nation's pilots. Two years ago, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program began training pilots who wanted to carry guns on flights to protect the cockpit.
Aviation sources tell Time that more than 4,000 pilots are authorized to carry guns, and each day they fly armed on more flights than do air marshals. The gun-toting pilots, who fly unidentified, now constitute the fourth-largest federal law-enforcement group in the U.S. Pilots in the program, as well as the Transportation Security Administration (tsa), which runs it, claim it has been a big success.
Rather humorous, considering the massive TSA resistance to the idea when it first came up. Here's a recent (yesterday's Congressional Quarterly) story on how it's still resisting....
Guns in Cockpits Program Still Half Cocked, Some Say
By Caitlin Harrington
CQ Homeland Security Daily
April 27. 2005
Two years after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a program
to train pilots to carry guns in the cockpit, critics say lingering problems with
the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program still discourage pilots from participating.
Since the program's inception in 2003, pilots groups have expressed frustration
with TSA policies on gun storage and identification. The policies, they say, put
the safety of deputized pilots at risk and run contrary to the intent of Congress,
which wanted as many pilots as possible to participate.
"They've created a program that is so unfriendly that tens of thousands of
pilots have changed their mind about volunteering," said David Mackett, president
of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), a group formed after the Sept. 11
attacks to lobby for the arming of pilots.
The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general is investigating the program.
APSA estimates that only about 4,000 pilots have been trained and deputized - a
fraction of the approximately 95,000 commercial pilots in the country. APSA estimates
about 50,000 pilots who were initially interested in the program changed their minds
after learning about certain TSA policies.
TSA defends the program, which has been widely praised by both Democrats and Republicans
as a cost-effective deterrent to hijackings. The agency continues to deputize more
pilots every week, said TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter.
But critics say participation would be greater if TSA changed some of its policies.
One of the most controversial requires pilots to store their guns in boxes whenever
they are not in the cockpit. Both APSA and the Air Line Pilots Association, the
nation's largest pilots union, say it is far safer to carry the gun in a holster
at all times than to frequently transfer it to and from a box.
As it stands, a pilot might have to handle a loaded gun up to 10 times a day, APSA
Pilots have also raised concerns about the plastic cards that identify them as federal
flight deck officers. They say they need to be able to hold up a shiny badge to
prove their credibility if an incident occurs on an airplane. They also say they
sometimes run into problems carrying guns at the security checkpoints because they
do not have a badge.
TSA chief David M. Stone told The Washington Post earlier this month that "one
or two" pilots authorized to carry guns have been put on the TSA's selectee
list in the past year. Selectees are singled out for additional screening at checkpoints.
DeFazio Goes Forward
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., was expected to offer a package of aviation security
amendments to the first homeland security authorization bill on Thursday evening,
including a provision designed to fix some of the problems with the FFDO program.
"We need to enhance their ability to [protect passengers] by removing any obstacle
that discourages otherwise willing pilots from being trained and armed," he
"The FFDO program has been successful, but I believe it would see more participation
if improvements were made," DeFazio said.
His bill would require DHS to issue badges to deputized pilots; set up a program
to allow pilots to carry guns in holsters rather than in a lockbox; and make it
easier for pilots to get the training required to become deputized.
Pilots groups have also voiced concern that federal flight deck officers are not
allowed to carry guns on international flights, and say that there need to be more
training facilities in the event more pilots decide to join. Today, all federal
flight deck officers are trained in Artesia, N.M.
DHS' inspector general is investigating the training procedures and efficacy of
the program, and is expected to release a report in June.
"TSA dropped the ball in a big way, and that's basically why we have the shell
of the program that we should have," Mackett said.