Airline pilots have always been armed, except for a period from 1988 to 2002 when passivity in the face of violence somehow seemed logical. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many wondered why pilots were ever disarmed. Congress passed the law that rearmed airline pilots with large, bipartisan, veto proof majorities in both houses of Congress. Rearming airline pilots has proven to be safe, very inexpensive and a highly effective deterrent to those who would use civilian airliners filled with innocent people as weapons of mass destruction.
Large numbers of airline pilots have volunteered to be trained, deputized as federal law enforcement officers (known as Federal Flight Deck Officers or FFDO’s) and armed with firearms to defend their passengers and our country. Despite dire predictions from a few, armed pilots have amassed a record of safety that is the envy of Federal Law Enforcement while providing a crucial layer of deterrence and protection for the traveling public.
But despite the bipartisan support, the exemplary safety record, the obviously effective deterrent and the extremely low costs (amounting to a few dollars per flight), the Obama administration continues to attempt to defund this outstanding example of public/private cooperation and has set up road blocks that discourage the highest possible level of participation from airline pilots. Here are some examples.
Training. The administration offers only one location in the country where pilots may be trained and deputized. Located in a remote corner of New Mexico — almost four hours from the nearest large city — airline pilots must travel to this location at their own expense. Pilots are not paid for their service as FFDO’s and nobody is asking for a salary, but much of the classroom training could be accomplished online at a much lower cost to the participating pilot — as well as the taxpayer. Pilots must requalify with their firearms every six months but the administration has approved only one private contractor to conduct the training and the training locations and schedules are very limited. Online training where it’s appropriate and more training locations would be a big step forward in making the FFDO program more user-friendly and thus encouraging more pilots to volunteer.
Weapons transport and carriage. The TSA and the Obama administration have mandated a series of cumbersome methods of transporting and carrying firearms issued to pilots. Because of their institutional hostility to armed pilots, which might be best explained by the programs low budget and paid-employee headcount, these burdensome carriage and transport systems have been used by the TSA as a way to discourage pilot participation in the FFDO program. Simplifying the carriage rules would make a safe program even safer while making it much more attractive to potential pilot volunteers.
Security screening. Armed pilots are required to use a method of transiting the TSA security check point that is time-consuming and risks identifying the armed pilot to the traveling public. Obviously, the deterrent value of the program is reduced when savvy onlookers can determine which cockpits are protected and which are more favorable targets. Allowing FFDO’s to transit the security checkpoint with their crews will make the program more effective and user-friendly.
In a rare moment of bipartisan unity, Congress mandated that a large, robust program to arm our nation’s airline pilots be implemented. TSA bureaucrats have rewritten the law to their liking making participation less attractive and thus discouraging volunteers. Recognizing the problem, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, has introduced Senate Bill S. 1594, The Arm All Pilots Act of 2015. This bill will address these problems along with many others in the FFDO program and will encourage a new wave of airline pilots to step forward.
TSA is failing its own internal testing 95% of the time. The FBI tells us they are investigating ISIS followers in all 50 states. The threat to commercial airliners remains real. The U.S. military stands ready to destroy an airliner filled with innocent people that has been commandeered by terrorists. Don’t passengers deserve armed airline pilots as a last resort, final line of defense before such an awful course of action is ever contemplated?
• Capt. Tracy W. Price is a 25-year veteran with a major U.S. airline and is the president of the Airline Security Consultant Group. He has been involved in the effort to rearm airline pilots since September, 2001.