Are The Armed Pilots?
Capt. Tracy W. Price
November 25th, 2002, President Bush signed the Arming Pilots
Against Terrorism Act. The law compelled the Transportation
Security Administration (TSA) to train and arm airline pilots
that volunteered for the program. Many Americans and, in
my experience as an airline captain, much of the traveling
public happily believe that large numbers of airline pilots
are now carrying guns. Unfortunately, they are living in
a fool’s paradise.
a press conference on August 26, 2003 the TSA gleefully
reported that far fewer airline pilots have volunteered
for the armed pilot program than pilot groups estimated
might volunteer. As of now, there are only a few hundred
airline pilots flying armed in the U.S. out of about 80,000
that are eligible to volunteer for training. TSA bureaucrats
in the Bush administration, who convulse at the mere thought
of anyone but a government agent carrying a gun, have been
opposed to the armed pilot program from the beginning and
they have worked tirelessly to ensure its failure. The large
majority of Americans that support arming airline pilots,
and their representatives in the Congress that passed a
law mandating an armed pilot program might rightfully ask:
Where are the volunteers? The answer to the question is
really quite simple.
Bush Administration’s TSA has very intentionally and very
successfully minimized the number of volunteers through
thinly veiled threats and by making the program as difficult
as possible to get into.
airline pilots practice their profession at the pleasure
of the federal government. Airline Captains are required
to hold and Airline Transport Pilot’s certificate (ATP)
issued by the FAA. To gain the experience required by a
major airline, a pilot must have thousands of hours of flight
time amassed over many years as a civilian or military pilot.
During those years, the pilot must survive constant evaluation.
Each pilot’s proficiency and judgment are relentlessly evaluated
and must meet rigorous standards to obtain and keep advanced
ratings, as well as the right to additional experience and
the right to remain employed as a pilot.
hired by an airline, the gauntlet continues. Airline pilots
are required to demonstrate their proficiency at four-hour
long sessions in advanced flight simulators twice each year.
Engines quit and catch fire, hydraulic systems lose pressure,
electrical systems malfunction and flight controls fail.
The penalty for failing to meet the standard is termination
of employment and loss of your ATP. Each year, airline pilots
will receive a “line check” in which “check pilots” will
ride in the cockpit and evaluate the performance of the
crew. Several times each year, FAA examiners will – without
notice – show up to give pilots a check ride. Again, failing
to meet the standards for these rides will lead to a trip
to the simulator for another check ride where your job and
livelihood are on the line.
each year, airline captains are required to report to FAA
designated physicians for a physical and psychological exam.
Medical history is evaluated and a physical exam with exacting
standards is performed. The FAA doctor is trained to ask
probing questions and look for any sign of psychological
instability, stress or depression. Failing to meet the standard
will, of course, result in immediate removal from the flying
schedule and loss of any opportunity to be employed as a
the numbers of those around them that have not successfully
passed through this demanding process, airline pilots employ
a little gallows humor when facing one of these evaluations
and simply tag them a “bet your job” day.
fresh with this backdrop of the professional life of an
airline pilot, consider the armed pilot program that the
Bush Administration’s TSA has constructed. First, understand
that the TSA is adamantly opposed to the armed pilot program
(they think it’s a threat to their cash-cow, the Federal
Air Marshal program) and are arguably very hostile to pilots.
Last year, the TSA granted itself the power to unceremoniously
revoke a pilots ATP if they deem him to be a security threat.
No due process, no requirement to show the pilot the case
they have made against him, just the irrecoverable loss
of the profession you’ve worked a lifetime to practice if
the TSA decides that you are a “threat.” Next, pilots that
volunteer for training to carry guns must complete a very
detailed,13-page application. Now the pilot is ordered to
report for a three-hour written psychological exam probing
into the most private components of any person, his thoughts,
feelings, opinions and emotions. Pilots that pass this government
sponsored psychological strip-search then are ordered to
report to a government psychologist for a one-on-one “interview.”
(One such government psychologist confided to a pilot-applicant
that his job, as explained to him by the TSA, is not to
find the few that may be unfit for the program but to assume
that all are unfit until proven otherwise.) It is very telling
that reliable sources within the TSA report to pilots that
the failure rate for airline pilots that volunteer for the
armed pilot program is 52% and that every single failure
has been in the psychological evaluation/background check
phase of the program.
the pilots that finally make it into training, they will
have to travel at their own expense to and pay for their
own room and board in Artesia, New Mexico. (Artesia is 186
miles from Lubbock, Texas, the nearest city. Glynco, Georgia
was apparently too convenient to Atlanta and Jacksonville,
so training was relocated to this less convenient site).
There they will find that TSA psychological “evaluators”
will outnumber the firearms instructors and they will dutifully
make notes each time a pilot exhibits an unauthorized facial
expression or asks any uncomfortable questions. (For instance,
“Why are we using this cumbersome and ridiculous weapons
protocol?” Or, “Why were our peers, once entrusted with
nuclear weapons and now regularly entrusted with large,
commercial airliners, found psychologically unsuitable for
the armed pilot program?”)
as pilots are trained to evaluate all of the factors concerning
a takeoff and make a proper decision (delay the departure,
cancel the flight or proceed normally), they evaluate the
totality of the TSA’s armed pilot program and they decline
to participate in droves. Pilots view the TSA armed pilot
program as a “bet your job” fiasco, that will cost each
pilot that volunteers at least one week of flight pay (in
addition to his out-of-pocket expenses) and requires him
to bare his soul to an out-of-control government agency
that hates the idea of armed pilots. Couple this with the
breath-taking failure rate of the psychological evaluations
and pilots are saying, “No, thanks.” It appears that the
TSA lawyer who in the summer of 2002 said, “We will make
this program so difficult, cumbersome and threatening that
nobody will volunteer” was correct.
justify their onerous, excessive and intrusive tactics,
the TSA says, “We need to make sure that each pilot we give
a gun to can use the gun if attacked by terrorists and can
then land safely after taking the life of terrorists.” In
other words, “We think that you’d be better off dead.” Obviously,
pilots wont volunteer for the program in the first place
unless they are willing to use a gun to defend their passengers.
Moreover, if a pilot is “screened out” of the program by
the TSA Psychological Sooth-Sayers and terrorists attack
his cockpit, the outcome is very certain: he, all of his
passengers and possibly many thousands on the ground will
soon be dead. A logical armed pilot program would not be
looking for ways to screen pilots out; it would be looking
for ways to encourage more volunteers.
reports in recent weeks indicate that al Quida operatives
are planning cockpit takeovers of airliners flying over
the U.S. with the intention of murdering the pilots and
using the airliner as a guided bomb. Clearly, the nothing
the TSA has done thus far has been any deterrent to al Quida
and almost two years after the horrific attacks of September
11th, 2001, we are nearly as ill prepared to prevent or
counter a similar terrorist attack as we were on September
10th. Congress should take the armed pilot program away
from the TSA and give it to an agency (the FBI?) that will
do the job properly. Then Congress should ask itself, “Why
are we continuing to fund the TSA?
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