Pilots: TSA Trying to Discourage Armed Pilot Volunteers

By Jeff Johnson CNSNews.com Congressional Bureau Chief
February 24, 2003

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - As the February 25th deadline approaches for aviation security officials to begin training pilots who volunteer for the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, those pilots said Friday that administration officials who oppose the program are still trying to interfere with the mandate from Congress to put guns in the cockpits.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told CNSNews.com Friday afternoon that, as part of the law that created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), "Congress included authority for TSA to establish an armed Flight Deck Officer program."

Capt. Tracy Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, balked at Rosenker's choice of words. "They don't understand this isn't an option, that this is a mandate, this is a command to [TSA Undersecretary] Admiral [James] Loy and the TSA," Price charged. "[Congress] told them to do it. They've told them to do it right now. They gave them until February 25th to begin training and deputizing."

TSA was originally given discretion in creating the program and chose not to do so at the direction of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Congress responded by ordering the creation of the program in the DHS legislation, mandating that all qualified commercial passenger airline pilots must be allowed to participate and setting the Feb. 25 deadline for implementation of the program.

Rosenker said the training and evaluation of pilot-volunteers will proceed, for the most part, on schedule.

"We anticipate taking applications very quickly...come the beginning of March," she said. "It's conceivable that pilots - those who have volunteered and successfully completed the training - could be in the cockpits of planes as early as April, middle of April; spring."

But Price believes those training and evaluation requirements proposed by the TSA are designed to accomplish a goal other than arming the largest number of pilots possible to deter a repeat of the 9/11
terrorist hijackings.

"There [are] a lot of things in this plan that they propose that point towards trying to minimize the number of volunteers and limit the size of the program instead of welcoming us and thanking us for coming
forward and volunteering to do this," he said.

TSA Psychological Examination: 'Not Their Place'

As an example, Price noted the mandatory psychological examination by a TSA psychologist, which he said is designed to intimidate would-be armed pilots.

"They've said they are going to screen for things like the willingness to take into account the safety and security of the passengers and crew," Price noted. "That isn't something we 'take into account.' That's the thing that's at the front of our minds and better be at the front of our minds every second that we're at work and in command of an airplane.

He doubts that TSA is qualified to duplicate the mental and physical health evaluations that are already part of the Federal Aviation Administration's mandatory screening, which all commercial pilots must undergo every six months to keep their licenses.

"That's not their place to evaluate us based upon those very foundational things. We're constantly being checked for those already," Price explained. "The fact that you're an airline pilot means you should have superior judgment, cognitive ability [and be in good health].

"Those are all things that, if you don't have those abilities in abundance - in greater abundance than is required to be a Federal Flight Deck Officer - then you certainly don't have anywhere near what's required to be an airline pilot," he added.

Rosenker would not discuss the details of the psychological evaluation for security reasons. She explained that the background investigation will include a query of all federal law enforcement agencies for any history of criminal activity, but she would not elaborate further.

"We were asked to put together a program to allow pilots to carry guns," she said. "Part of that program must be a psychological assessment at the end of their training, and it must be a background check."

Painting a 'Bulls-Eye on Every Pilot'

Price also said the chosen method for transportation and storage of the weapons has raised objections from pilots even though they are pleased with one aspect of TSA's decision.

"The jurisdiction of use of the weapon is in the cockpit and the cockpit only. They are called 'Federal Flight Deck Officers,'" Rosenker explained. "If somebody tries to intervene into the cockpit of that aircraft, they have the right to use their weapon."

Asked if there were no other circumstances under which a pilot would be justified in using the weapon, she replied, "That's correct."

Unless the pilot is behind the locked cockpit door, TSA will require that the weapon be holstered, locked inside a hard-sided gun case and stored inside "a bag that is nondescript."

"The weapon needs to be re-secured in the locked box if the cockpit door open," Rosenker explained, acknowledging that the regulation would include times during flights when one of the pilots leaves the cockpit
to use the restroom or get food.

Price said the response to the mechanics of how the weapons will be handled, transported and stored has been mixed.

"We are pleased that we will have immediate access to the weapon on the flight deck," he said. "But in terms of [transportation], it's a huge problem."

Storing the weapon inside a locked box, rather than on their person - where law enforcement officers and armed private citizens transport their handguns - poses a number of problems for pilots, Price believes.

"That just makes us a huge target. It just paints a bulls-eye on every pilot, whether he happens to be an armed pilot or not," he argued.

"Now, all of the sudden, my pilot's uniform gives the criminal element - that may be in the employee parking lot at three in the morning when I show up for work - some idea that I may be carrying a very high-value weapon," Price explained, "and they know that that weapon is unavailable to me to use in self-defense."

TSA Allegedly Acknowledged Risks of Gun Loss and Theft

TSA has acknowledged, Price claimed, that the lock-box method of transporting firearms is not the ideal.

"At a meeting on February 19th with the TSA, TSA official John Moran said, quote, 'The risk of loss or theft is higher with the carry method we propose,'" Price told CNSNews.com. "Why in the world would you do something that you know increases the risk?"

Price said the members of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance believe they know the answer to that question.

"We know they're not trying to give us the most secure method for carrying these weapons," he said. "What they are trying to do, in our view, is give us the most cumbersome and difficult method that will minimize the number of volunteers."

Rosenker said that, in addition to the actual firearms instruction, pilots will receive training in self-defense, "the psychology of survival" and federal rules for flying armed.

But Price warned that one aspect of carrying those weapons in the lock-box could also indicate to an alert terrorist that a pilot was armed, despite TSA's mandate that the locked gun case be carried inside a "nondescript bag." CNSNews.com agreed not to disclose the details of that scenario to avoid aiding would-be hijackers.

"They're mandating a carry method that's going to put us in personal danger," Price concluded. "That totally does not make any sense."

Afterword: Since any deputy sheriff from even the smallest jurisdictions without this Draconian screening and training has access to any commercial aircraft, This TSA policy is completely unacceptable. And places an oppressive burden on the most highly scrutinized workforce in America. Pilots are at risk from terrorists even while off duty in unfamiliar cities and they should have ready access to their firearm for the defense of themselves and their crewmembers at all times.

For more information see the
Airlines Pilots' Security Alliance web site at www.secure-skies.org

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