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Keeping Pilots Unarmed By: Steven Bernstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 28, 2004

On November 19, 2002, the Homeland Security Act, H.R. 5005, was enacted into law, authorizing the training and certification of commercial airline pilots in the use of firearms, to protect the cockpit against hijackers.

The Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) training program, administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), graduated the first weekly class of 48 volunteer pilots in April 2003. However, the second weekly class of 48 didn't graduate until July 2003, and as of January 2004, more than two years after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, only "500 to 800" out of more than 100,000 commercial airline pilots, who fly 11 million flights per year, have been firearms certified.(1)

As mandated by Congress, the goal of the FFDO program is to quickly train and certify large numbers of pilots in the use of firearms, to provide a credible deterrent to hijackers bent on taking over an airliner. However, even if the TSA doubles the number of weekly graduates, less than 1% of commercial airline flights will be FFDO protected by October, 2004.(2) What are the reasons that so few pilots have been firearms-trained?

Simply put, the TSA's intimidating background screenings involve intrusive psychological tests; its threats of sharing its opinion of the pilot's psychological fitness with the FAA and the pilot's employer; its refusal to issue standard federal credentials to FFDO graduates; its ridiculous requirement that the firearm be carried in a lockbox onto the airplane, instead of on the FFDO's person; its use of only one distant training facility; its instructions to Federal Air Marshals to police the FFDO's; and its arbitrary and unnecessary disqualifications of FFDO candidates, have combined to discourage most of those pilots who would have otherwise volunteered.(3)

TSA has also refused to consider private firearms training academies, either as an alternative or as a supplement to their own training program.

All FFDO candidates must first complete a detailed and intrusive thirteen-page application form, then submit to a similarly intrusive and grueling three-hour written psychological exam, then submit to an interview with a government psychologist.(4) A large percentage of FFDO candidates are screened out by these procedures, however, making it through the pre-training exam and interview do not guarantee successful graduation. One FFDO candidate, a former DEA and US Customs Agent, was disqualified by the TSA one hour before graduation. No reason was given.

Concerning the fitness of those who are screened out, one FFDO candidate stated, "...the USAF trusted me for over 28 years to be responsible for several types of multi-million dollar jet fighters...The USAF considered me psychologically sound enough to be directly responsible for nuclear weapons...As a full Colonel and fighter wing commander I was responsible and accountable for leading and training (over 1000) warriors, maintaining F-16 fighters, and thousands of tons of sophisticated weapons. I find it ironic that I was responsible for...jet fighters and training...pilots, and yet a TSA psychologist has determined I am unreliable to carry a weapon in my own airliner..."(5)

No other federal law enforcement agency disqualifies so many highly competent people.

Airline pilots must fly at the sufferance of the federal government, and Airline Captains must earn and hold an Airline Transport Pilot's Certificate (ATPC), issued by the FAA. This certificate is subject to revocation, and pilots are subject to termination of employment upon their failure to meet any of the standards imposed by constant evaluations during their flying careers. However, the TSA has the power to summarily revoke the ATPC of FFDO candidates, resulting in termination of employment, if they consider him/her a "security threat."(6)

Everyone involved with the FFDO training program, except the TSA, is very concerned with the lockbox requirement, that is, how the firearm is carried onto and off of the airplane. According to John Mazor, of the Airline Pilots Association, the firearm is now carried onto the plane "in a lockbox,” which is itself in "an inconspicuous little bag." However, the FFDO must place the firearm in the box, every time he/she goes on or off duty, leaves the cockpit while on duty, or "deadheads"--flies as a passenger--in the passenger cabin.

According to Brian Darling, spokesman for the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), "No other federal Agent is forced to carry firearms in a lockbox. This may be why so many pilots have failed to volunteer for the program." In addition, the FFDO must carry the "inconspicuous little bag" at all times, marking him conspicuously and making theft of the firearm more likely. The APSA has estimated that the average pilot must put the firearm into or take it out of the lockbox 160 times per month, or roughly 8 times per day.(7) This practice is at best very burdensome, and increases the chance that the firearm might be lost, especially if the FFDO has to carry the boxed firearm to and from the aircraft cargo compartment for transport.

The TSA however, has acknowledged that FFDO bags containing firearms will be lost by airline baggage personnel, especially as more FFDO's graduate. Such a loss might entail the evacuation of the entire concourse area. The best way for the FFDO to carry the firearm onto the airplane, as Mazor stated, "is in the holster on his person,” which would eliminate the uncertainty and potential for chaos created by the FFDO having to carry his/her firearm around in a lockbox.

However, FFDO's are not issued standard federal credentials, because, as the TSA has stated, the FFDO's will use badges "to get out of traffic tickets."(8) TSA fails to acknowledge that lack of proper identification/credentials will not only make it difficult for other law enforcement officers to identify FFDO's, but could also prove dangerous.

In addition, FFDO candidates must pay their own way to and from the training site, pay for their own room and board while training, and sustain the loss of one week's income, which in some cases amounts to well over a thousand dollars. In September 2003 the training site was relocated from Glynco, Georgia, fairly close to Atlanta, to the remote location of Artesia, New Mexico. Artesia is 186 miles from the nearest city, Lubbock, Texas.(9) Presumably the training was relocated to Artesia because that site has jetliner mock-ups for training. However, jetliner mock-ups could conceivably be installed at another, more convenient site, and there is no reason why Artesia has to be the only site for FFDO training.

Congress mandated the FFDO program to train large numbers of pilots in a short period of time: two years or less. Unless the number of FFDO graduates increases dramatically between January and November, 2004, the number of graduates will not even amount to two percent of the total number of commercial airline pilots, and will not even begin to provide a deterrent to hijackers targeting the 11 million commercial airline flights occurring annually.

The responsibility for this pathetic state of affairs lies squarely with the TSA, an out-of-control and irresponsible government agency that has done everything it can to intimidate and threaten FFDO candidates. TSA has also placed a myriad of obstacles in the way of armed pilots successfully defending the cabin against hijackers, thereby giving the green light to terrorists bent on flying another jetliner into a skyscraper, and increasing the chances that a U.S. plane will be forced to shoot down a terrorist-commandeered airliner.

As Brian Darling states, "The TSA's implementation (of the FFDO training program) is woeful. We (APSA) are really concerned about the TSA's implementation of the program."

Americans can only ponder why the TSA, a U.S. government agency, has so blatantly abdicated their congressionally mandated responsibility to protect the lives of American citizens, and to stop those who are trying to destroy Western civilization.


1. Article, "Pilots Still Unarmed," by John Lott Jr., New York Post Online, 1/6/04
2. Airline Pilots Security Alliance-Report to the House Aviation Subcommittee on the Status of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, October 29, 2003.
3. Ibid.
4. Article, "Where are the Armed Pilots?", by Captain Tracey W. Price, at www. secure-skies.org/Where-Are_the_Armed_Pilots?
6. Article, "Where are the Armed Pilots?" as in #4
7. ASPA-Report to the House Aviation Subcommittee on the Status of the FFDO Program, as in #2
8. Ibid.
9. Article, "Where are the Armed Pilots?" as in #4
Other Sources
Authors conversation with John Mazor, Airline Pilots Association, Herndon Virginia, November 2003.
Authors conversation with Brian Darling, Airline Pilots Security Alliance, Washington DC, 1/9/04.

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