More airline pilots toting guns after 9/11 attacks
Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a growing number of U.S. airline pilots are armed, prepared to use lethal force to protect the cockpit. Soon, they will carry badges, bringing them even closer to being bona fide law enforcement officers.
“Every cop has that metal badge to flash,” said John Mazor, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Assn. “It is a valid recognition signal between law enforcement officers.”
About 8,000 pilots carry government-issued guns on a voluntary basis, or about 8% of the nation’s 100,000 pilots, according to the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a volunteer organization that advocates increased cockpit security. Two years ago, about 3,000 pilots were armed.
These pilots, officially known as federal flight deck officers, keep sidearms handy to provide one more layer of security and a last line of defense against hijackers.
Although there have been no reports of pilots drawing their weapons since the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government has granted pilots slightly more leeway in how they take guns on board planes.
Notably, pilots now can lock their guns into holsters, which are then placed in a discreet bag. After pilots are in the cockpit, the holsters are removed from the bag and latched onto their belts. Previously, the guns had to be transported onto planes in a heavy steel box.
To further fold pilots into the police community, the federal flight deck officer program has been placed under the Federal Air Marshal Service, an arm of the Transportation Security Administration. Last month, the marshal service approved issuing badges to pilots so they are more easily identifiable.
“We’re a law enforcement agency, so we understand the culture they’re trying to develop as federal flight deck officers,” said Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman Conan Bruce.
To become flight deck officers, pilots undergo six days of intense training at a federal complex in Artesia, N.M., including weapons handling and close-combat techniques.
Most important, Bruce said, they learn “how to use the appropriate level of force.”
About 50 pilots are trained each week. After graduation, the TSA issues the pilots a Heckler & Koch .40 caliber semiautomatic revolver.