pilots groups and key members of Congress are blasting the Transportation
Security Administration for moves they fear could delay arming
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
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
TSA training staffers, many of whom moved to Georgia in the past
year, were offered the chance to relocate to New Mexico.
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 soon.
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 pilots.''
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 than this.''
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.