Pilots Protest TSA Roadblocks

By Captain Dennis Jackson


capt. JacksonAugust 26, 2003 will be the day that airline pilots from around the country will attend press conferences to protest what they say is Transportation Security Administration foot-dragging on the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.

Airline pilots believe it is time to remove roadblocks such as prolonged psychological screening, background checks, lockboxes and cargo pilot restrictions, and get pilots armed as mandated by federal law.

The TSA is clearly non-compliant with both the letter and the spirit of the law in regard to keeping our skies safer from terrorism.

Cargo airlines are specifically excluded from the provisions of the Armed Pilot program. Cargo carriers who operate some of the largest aircraft in commercial aviation do not meet the same security requirements as passenger aircraft. And operate from the most security weakened areas of the airports. Most cargo aircraft do not have reinforced cockpit doors, or in some cases, no door at all. These deficiencies are ingredients for another 9-11 style disaster.

The lockbox requirement is probably the most preposterous and potentially unsafe rule put upon the pilots by the TSA. Pilots authorized to carry firearms must lock them in a lockbox before leaving the cockpit to use the restroom. Any time the cockpit door is opened, for any reason, a firearm must be available for immediate use since that is the time the cockpit is most vulnerable. And the more times a firearm is handled you increase the risk of a negligent discharge.

In addition, when an FFDO is traveling as a passenger to pick up another flight his lockbox with the firearm must be placed in the cargo hold of the aircraft. This exposes the firearm to theft by baggage handlers and other unauthorized persons. Not to mention the fact that the firearm is out of the control of the pilot if it is needed to prevent an act of air piracy during flight.

The provisions of the Homeland Security Act allows for all airline pilots to be eligible for participation in the FFDO program. Enrollment in the FFDO program has dropped since the TSA completed their last class of pilots. The TSA claims that this is because of a lack of interest from pilots. However, pilots claim that the process is so intrusive and draconian that they cannot chance being rejected for fear of losing their jobs.

The TSA has determined that any pilot who doesn’t pass the ludicrous screening requirements, for whatever reason, he or she will be reported to the Federal Aviation Administration who may revoke the pilot certificate of the failed pilot.

Pilots are accustomed to frequent medical testing and proficiency evaluations every six months and have been subjected to FBI background checks in order to maintain their current flying status. This makes most of the additional screening requirements redundant and cost prohibitive.

Since Congress passed legislation last year authorizing the TSA to begin selecting, training and arming airline pilots to date less than 150 are flying with firearms.

It is apparent that the TSA and other government agencies are more concerned about the illusion of security to the traveling public and not the safety of passengers or innocent citizens on the ground.

Airline pilots claim that this arrogance will come at a big cost if terrorists again gain control of another commercial airliner. With our terror alert level at “Elevated” and the FBI issuing warnings to law enforcement that we are risk of more terror attacks more could and should be done to ensure that our pilots are equipped with all the tools necessary to discourage any attempts to take over a flight deck.

Captain Bob Lambert, President of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, recently made this statement: “While the Department of Homeland Security warns that al Qaeda has threatened to use commercial aviation here in the United States and abroad to further their cause, their colleagues at TSA are preventing the fastest and most effective deterrent which is to arm pilots in the cockpit as a last line of defense against an attack.”

The Transportation Security Administration is a new agency that has never trained law enforcement officers in the use of firearms and has been opposed to the armed pilot program from the beginning. Pilot firearm training should be taken out of their hands and conducted under the authority of the US Justice Department and contracted to civilian firearm academies. This alone will expedite the training process and dramatically decrease the cost of the program to the taxpayers.

At the current rate it will take 15 years for the TSA to train 40,000 of the nations 120,000 pilots at a cost of $12,000 per pilot. Private schools can provide the same standard of training for less than $2,000 per pilot and have the pilots trained and back on the job much faster than the TSA has been able to do.

One premier school, Front Sight Firearm Academy in Las Vegas, NV, has offered to train airline pilots for free and another school has presented a proposal to the TSA to train these pilots at their facility at a cost of $800 per pilot. So far the TSA has not responded to any offer to train pilots even though the law allows private industry to train the pilots.

The TSA is even going so far as to move their training facility to a more remote location. In September 2003 the TSA firearm training center will be moved to Artesia, NM which is nearly 200 miles from the nearest large city. This move will increase travel time and add additional costs to the pilot candidates.

These efforts are designed by the TSA to thwart any interest from pilots to participate by making it even more difficult for pilots to travel at their own cost to this remote location. And this requirement will burden the airlines by having them arrange for additional travel days. Even though the additional time off will be at the expense of the pilot candidate another pilot will have to cover the lost time.

This issue is becoming critical in the eyes of pilots who are responsible for the safety of their aircraft and passengers, and should be treated by our government as a serious national security issue.

You, the reader, may be opposed to pilots carrying firearms, but what if you were on a hijacked airliner with terrorists in the cockpit, wouldn't you want the pilots to have a fighting chance? The situation could only be worse if they weren’t armed!

Captain Jackson is a pilot for a major US airline. He is also a certified firearm instructor and an advisor to Armed Females of America.

Related Link: www.secure-skies.org