'You're an officer of the federal government'
By Vin Suprynowicz
Pete the Pilot, who I interviewed on Sept. 12, 2001, for the "Sept. 11" chapter of my latest book, had a layover in Vegas a short time back, so I asked him how things were going with arming America's commercial airline pilots.
"You see, the airline executives were against it, and the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) was against it -- the pilots were the only ones who wanted it." So, although Congress overwhelmingly mandated the program, "they've already run into some problems with it. The original TSA guy didn't want the pilots to be armed, so he set out to keep this from happening by making it very distasteful and inconvenient to be armed. So they've already redesigned the program."
How does it work?
"You do it on the Net. You answer some questions, then you get sent to another (online) site to take a test, and then you have to go take a six-day class. You have to go there at your own expense, on your own time. The airline does not pay to get you there, and if you miss a flight rotation that's money out of your pocket."
To get around admitting that it could ever, ever be a good thing to allow mere "civilians" to go armed, the authorities have mandated that pilots who complete the training will now be officially deputized. "You get a badge and everything; you're a `federal flight deck officer.' "
Where's the six-day course held?
"They're moving the location of the course facility again; it's somewhere out West that's not very convenient."
TSA southwest regional spokesgal Suzanne Luber says the first "prototype" class started with 48 pilots and ended up deputizing 44 "flight deck officers" at the federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., in April. After a second small class graduates this summer, the training program will move next fall to Artesia, N.M.
"We have a budget of $8 million through the end of the fiscal year, which is September, and the cost of the course per pilot is $2,100," not including overhead and start-up costs. "It's 48 hours, so the course is six days." The pilots don't have to pay for that, but they do attend on their own time, she confirmed.
To get to bustling Artesia, "You fly to either Albuquerque or El Paso, and then you take a small plane to Roswell, and then you drive," Ms. Luber says, cheerily.
"And you have to get re-certified twice a year," Pete continues. Re-certification can be at any federal law enforcement shooting range; the pilots won't have to go back to Georgia or New Mexico twice a year, Ms. Luber says.
There are about 60,000 commercial airline pilots in America. How many are now being trained to fly armed?
"They took like 45 people," Pete says. Then there's going to be a second class, but that's already full, too."
And out of the more than 3,000 pilots that fly Pete's airline? How many are now being trained to go armed?
So a hijacker's chances of running into an armed pilot would be ... two-tenths of 1 percent?
"The bureaucrats who fought the arming of airline pilots are now placing outrageous roadblocks in the implementation of the law authorizing pilots to carry guns during flights," is the way Phil Brennan reported the story on NewsMax.com back on Feb. 19, in a story headlined "Federal Bureaucrats Obstruct Armed-Pilots Law."
"The requirements proposed by the Transportation Security Administration, including exhaustive psychological evaluations, are `intrusive' and `obscene,' charges the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance (APSA)."
Tracy W. Price, a spokesman for the pilots group, complains the TSA wants each pilot seeking to carry a gun to submit to a wide-ranging background investigation, including interviews with neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers, an interview with a TSA psychiatrist, a second government psychological exam and a medical evaluation.
Many of those requirements are redundant because the Federal Aviation Administration already conducts physical and psychological exams of pilots every six months, Price told Newsmax.com.
Is Pete going to apply? "I'm not going to do it."
"I'm not going to go into the psychological testing and being told whether I'm psychologically fit to carry a weapon. I already carry a gun, and I've already been judged fit to fly a plane, where I have responsibility for the lives of 200 passengers. So I'm not going to do that. And I also don't want to be a federal deputy. They actually deputize you and give you a badge and everything -- you're an officer of the federal government, and I just don't feel I can do that."
Let's just say Pete is not exactly a fan of our increasingly intrusive central government.
Didn't most pilots go armed up through the early 1960s, without all this federal folderol, I asked him -- in fact, wasn't it required to carry a sidearm if you were flying the U.S. mails; didn't Lucky Lindbergh always wear a sidearm when he carried the mail?
"1960s? Heck, most of the pilots were armed right up into the '70s. All this screening stuff is the fault of our own Airline Pilots Association, if you can believe it. Back when we started to have all those hijackings to Cuba, the pilots association demanded they do something, so we gave up our guns and in return we got the start of this wonderful screening system we've got now."
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the books "Send in the Waco Killers" and "The Ballad of Carl Drega." His Web site is www.privacyalert.us.
For the latest information on the FFDO program: Airline Pilots Security Alliance
Editors note: "FFDOs will be issued credentials to identify themselves to law enforcement and security personnel but will not be issued metal badges." Transportation Security Adminstration