After September 11, 2001 some US airline pilots were granted the authority to carry guns while on duty in the cockpit. Some of the pilots are trained on how to use the weapon in the unlikely event a person were to enter the cockpit and threaten the safety of the flight. Now a group representing the armed pilots wants to expand their authority so pilots who have the training can carry their hand guns while riding in the back of the airplane as well as in airport terminals, Wired.com reports.
The president of the Federal Flight Deck Officers Association told a Senate committee that there are five times as many airline pilots flying as passengers on airliners as there are Federal Air Marshals. The Air Marshals are the specially trained federal officers who travel undercover as security on a random selection of flights. But Marcus Flagg, president of the FFDO, told the Senate committee the Marshals cost about $3,300 per flight and the cost limits the number of Marshals on board aircraft. Flagg said expanding the authority of armed pilots would significantly increase the number of armed officers on board flights.
“A FFDO as a flying pilot at the controls would defend the aircraft from the cockpit only, and not exit the cockpit” Flagg told the committee: “If one or more FFDOs are riding as passengers in the back of that same aircraft, they may be the only trained law enforcement on board (including cockpit crew).”
Flagg said limiting the pilots to having an unlocked gun only available in the cockpit limits the usefulness of having the armed pilots. Currently pilots must have their weapons locked when carrying them to and from the cockpit and they cannot carry their weapons outside the cockpit such as during a visit to the lavatory.
The number of pilots who have been through the training and are authorized to carry a gun in the cockpit has not been released. But Flagg told the Orlando Sun Sentinel that the number is just under the FBI which has 13,800 armed officers according to the paper.
No armed pilot has had to use a gun to defend against a threat since the program started in 2002. There has been one accidental discharge of a gun in the cockpit of a US Airways flight while the airplane was on approach to land. There flight landed safely. In another incident a JetBlue pilot lost his hand gun when it was picked up by a passenger who mistakenly picked up the wrong backpack containing the locked weapon at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. The passenger realized she had the wrong bag after boarding her flight and returned it to a flight attendant.
Pilots undergo six days of training on how to use a gun for defending the cockpit. This compares to the many months of training for the Federal Air Marshals or typical police officers.