TSA Trying to Discourage Armed Pilot Volunteers
By Jeff Johnson CNSNews.com Congressional
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
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
"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,
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
"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
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
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."
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