pilots groups and key members of Congress are blasting the
Transportation Security Administration for moves they fear
could delay arming pilots.
week, the TSA fired Willie Ellison, the head of the TSA
academy, despite high praise by the pilots who received
firearms training. This week, the TSA revealed plans to
move the training from Georgia to New Mexico.
one more bureaucratic disaster devised by those who want
to make this more complex and expensive than it has to be,''
said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., head of the House aviation
subcommittee. ''I don't know what their ulterior motive
is, but it is very frustrating.''
authorized guns in cockpits last fall over the objections
of the Bush administration and the airline industry. The
law provides training for airline pilots in firearms, hand-to-hand
combat and legal issues. Pilots are then deputized as federal
officers and allowed to use deadly force in defense of their
cockpits. The first class of 44 pilots graduated in April.
TSA officials told the 50 people who
provide the training that the program would be moved from
the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.,
to a facility at Artesia, N.M., in a remote southeast section
of the state.
centers, on former military bases, provide training in firearms
and tactics to law enforcement personnel from 74 federal
agencies. The Georgia facility has seen enrollment grow
by 30% a year since 2001.
TSA training staffers, many of whom moved to Georgia in
the past year, were offered the chance to relocate to New
spokesman Robert Johnson said courses would resume in Georgia
in July as scheduled. Then the training would move to New
Mexico in the fall because of ''a surge of other training''
in Georgia. ''They are running out of space there,''
Johnson said. He said attempts will be made to find other
jobs for the trainers, but many fear they will be laid off
Rep. Peter DeFazio,
D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the aviation committee,
complained that the changes came as a surprise to Congress.
''No attempt was made to rationalize the waste of money
spent setting up the program in Georgia and then moving
it to New Mexico,'' he said. ''It's just another
attempt by the administration to disrupt the program at
the behest of the airlines who have always opposed arming
declined to comment on Ellison, citing privacy issues. Ellison
also declined to comment.
worry about what the shake-up means for those awaiting training.
Lambert, the head of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance,
an organization of pilots who have campaigned for the right
to arm themselves against the threat of terrorist attacks,
charged that the changes were a ''delay tactic''
by TSA officials opposed to arming pilots.
and other pilots also questioned the reasons given for firing
Ellison, a firearms expert and former deputy assistant director
with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They said
the TSA removed Ellison for ''unacceptable performance
and conduct,'' but that the specific reasons listed made
no sense to them.
bosses criticized him for holding a dinner for the pilots,
providing them with baseball caps with the program's logo
and asking them to evaluate the course -- all standard practices
for training seminars, the pilots said. ''The reasons
they fired him do not reflect what I observed in the program,''
Stephen Luckey, the chairman of the Air Line Pilot Association's
national security committee, said. ''Someone was obviously
unhappy with the program, but there's got to be more to it
said his staff is investigating Ellison's firing. He also
will push for changes in the program that will take it from
TSA authority and use private training companies instead.