ALPA Testifies on Arming Flight Crews

Noting that the pilots of American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, UPS, Air Tran, and Airborne Express share ALPA’s belief that arming pilots is a necessary security measure, Capt. Steve Luckey, chairman of ALPA’s National Security Committee, on May 2 presented the Association’s position on arming flight crews to the House Aviation Subcommittee.

"The subject of arming pilots has generated significant public debate and no small amount of misunderstanding about our recommendations," Capt. Luckey observed. He said that ALPA was the first to recommend to Congress in September 2001 that flight crews be armed.

ALPA applauds Congress "for passing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) last fall, which contained a provision for arming pilots," he said. "However, more than five months have passed since that bill was signed into law, and neither the airlines nor the Administration has taken any action to implement this important provision.

"For that reason, we are particularly pleased that Chairmen Young and Mica have introduced their legislation, which will require the TSA to implement a federal flight deck officer program.

"ALPA strongly endorses and supports this bill, and we urge Congress and the Administration to work together to ensure its passage."

A continuing threat

More than 40 years ago, during the height of the Cuban hijacking crisis, ALPA called for strengthening flight deck doors and arming pilots, among other measures.

In 1961, the FAA, with congressional support, amended the federal aviation regulations to permit pilots to be armed with the consent of their airline. The FAA removed that regulatory language in July 2001. The Young/Mica bill would restore the framework of what was so recently removed from the FARs.

To underscore the continuing risks airline employees and their passengers face, Capt. Luckey posed—and answered—three questions:

"First, do we still face a risk of terrorists taking control of an airliner and crashing it into a building? The Justice Department, the Office of Homeland Defense, the TSA, and numerous other sources have answered with an emphatic ‘yes.’

"Second, if terrorists board an aircraft with the intention of hijacking it, will they be armed only with box cutters as they were before? We think the answer is ‘probably not.’ The element of surprise from a box cutter-type attack is gone, and small knives are now confiscated at security checkpoints.

"Lastly, do we possess the will to do all that we can to avoid another catastrophe? Many pilots are willing and prepared to assume the responsibility for training with and carrying a weapon—as both a deterrent against hijacking attempts and as a means of preventing an attempt from becoming successful.

"With the support of Chairmen Young and Mica, and others who understand what is at stake, we hope that the eventual outcome of this hearing will be a resounding ‘yes’—that Congress, on behalf of the American public, also possesses such a will.

"I am one of about a dozen pilots selected in the mid-1970s to be trained by the FBI to carry a firearm while performing my duties as a pilot," Capt. Luckey added. "My airline’s president and the FAA approved my being armed to protect against the hijackings that were prevalent then.

"I did not particularly enjoy being armed during the 15 years that I carried a firearm, but it was a duty that I voluntarily undertook. I wore the weapon at all times, which was inconvenient, and being armed definitely involved an increased level of responsibility and restricted my activity.

"However, I thought that being armed then was necessary, and I believe that qualified and properly trained pilots being armed now is even more necessary."

The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program

"Many misconceptions exist about what ALPA has proposed with its federal pilot officer program, which is synonymous with the program that this Committee is considering," Capt. Luckey pointed out.

"We have not recommended arming all pilots or making the arming of pilots a condition of employment. We have instead recently petitioned the DOT to write a proposed rule to implement ATSA Section 128, Flight Deck Security.

"In comments to the DOT, we have specifically recommended that a federal pilot officer program be created. The main provisions of such a program are that the pilot

"The Young/Mica bill," he said, "provides an excellent framework for creating a federal flight deck officer program. We hope to work with the TSA in developing the program’s particulars.

Protecting with Federal Flight Deck Officers

"Reasonable people may disagree about the need for arming pilots to protect the flight deck," Capt. Luckey pointed out," but we are convinced that very strong arguments can be made in favor of creating the program outlined in the Young/Mica bill.

Rebuttals to arguments against arming pilots

"The more an individual knows about ALPA’s proposal to arm pilots," Capt. Luckey said, "the more likely he or she is to support it. We have found this to be true even within our own ranks.

"Those who are unfamiliar with our recommendations have raised several arguments against arming pilots that deserve to be addressed. Following are a few of the more commonly raised arguments against a flight deck protection program, and our answers to them.

"Furthermore, airliners will have only one hardened cockpit door—a door that must be opened during flight to let pilots use the lavatory and enter the passenger cabin as required for other purposes. Any passageway into the cockpit, no matter how well fortified, still holds the potential of becoming a threat to the flight deck.…

"While we strongly support installing new, hardened flight deck doors on U.S. airliners as an additional layer of security, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that they will protect flight crews under all circumstances.

"However, our research indicates that the cost of training and equipping pilots to carry firearms is the most efficient and cost-effective measure that the airlines can take to guard against further hijackings. In fact, these costs will be a mere fraction of the billions proposed for other, less effective security enhancements. The Young/Mica bill even proposes that the government pay the cost of training, which relieves the airlines of any cost concerns.…
"To minimize the probability of a stray round hitting an innocent passenger or crewmember," Capt. Luckey pointed out, "the shooting proficiency that we recommend for the flight deck officer program exceeds that of federal law enforcement agents. If a weapon did cause rapid decompression during a struggle for control of the aircraft, that event would pale in comparison to the airplane crashing into a building.
Federal Flight Deck Officer Program specifics

"The Young/Mica bill calls on the TSA to develop the specifics for arming pilots in consultation with the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit. We certainly support that provision," Capt. Luckey said, "and we would like to offer some preliminary recommendations:

"Selection and Training

"Tactics

"Weapon Carriage and Stowage