• United States



Armed and Flying

Dec 01, 20032 mins
Physical Security

In a Wild West duel, a gun would certainly beat a box cutter, but does a gun beat a box cutter when it comes to securing the nation’s skies?

Although the Bush administration initially opposed the idea, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act became law as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

But before being allowed to pack heat, pilots must first be trained as federal flight deck officers (FFDO). Candidates are trained in firearm use and defensive tactics during a weeklong course at the Artesia, N.M., Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) trained its first batch of pilots in April, and hundreds of pilots have since been trained and are flying armed, says Ann Davis, a spokesman for the TSA. By the end of 2004, the TSA expects to have trained thousands.

While the TSA gives a sunny account of its progress, some say the agency’s efforts, thus far, have been lackluster. “I’d give the TSA a D,” says Leon Laylagian, a representative for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, a trade association that represents pilots for five of the major U.S. airlines.

Laylagian notes that many pilots have reservations about the onerous TSA administrative requirements that are a part of the firearms training.

Among other things, Laylagian cites the intense psychological screening requirements. While not opposed to standard background checks and psychological screening for candidates, Laylagian argues that the TSA is applying a stricter standard to FFDO candidates than it does to candidates for other federal law enforcement jobs.

Pilots are also wary of submitting to the screening because the findings could prevent them from renewing the medical certification that they need to work, he says.

According to Laylagian, those impediments and others have kept the number of armed pilots low. “At the rate it’s going, it will take 15 years to train every pilot,” he says.