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
- "Volunteer to participate.
- "Be selected for training only after meeting strict, federal qualification standards.
- "Undergo training, provided by a federal law enforcement agency, specific to protecting the flight deck.
- "Be deputized as federal officers with jurisdiction restricted to the flight deck.
"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.
- "It would protect aviation’s most important zone of defense—the flight deck.
- "It may prevent the need for a U.S. fighter airplane to shoot down an airliner full of innocent passengers and crew members.
- "It will create a high level of deterrence.
- "The program will be highly effective and efficient.
- "Airline pilots are exceptionally well-suited for protecting the airliner’s flight deck.
- "The public supports it.
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.
- "New cockpit doors make arming pilots unnecessary. The newly designed, enhanced-security doors that the FAA requires are not yet installed on the U.S. airline fleet, and will not be until April 2003. Neither the current cockpit doors (with interim measures in place to strengthen them) nor the new cockpit doors are impenetrable, and a team of trained terrorists could well decide to prove that point.
"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.
"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
"In concert with ALPA’s One Level of Security goal, the program should be available to every airline pilot, regardless of the size of the aircraft or whether it carries passengers or cargo. No arbitrary limits should be placed on the number of pilots allowed to fly armed.
"Weapon custody policy should be designed to be as practical as possible, while accomplishing the goal of effectively protecting the cockpit with lethal force.
"Pilots volunteering for the program should be chosen in a manner similar to that used to select any federal law enforcement officer, including suitability for application of lethal force.
"Training should include instruction on basic safety, weapon maintenance, retention, liability, force continuum, and other appropriate subject matter, as is provided to federal law enforcement agents.
"Training should be limited to protecting the cockpit.
"Live-fire training should focus on surgical application of lethal force at distances appropriate to protecting the cockpit.
"Cockpit-specific firearms-training scenarios should be created to provide virtual shoot/no-shoot exercises to help teach the student judgment concerning use of the weapon.
"Simunitions (i.e., high-tech paint ball shot from a firearm) training, which is used in the FAM program, should be provided for live ‘perpetrator’ assaults in a cockpit simulator using modified versions of the officer’s actual firearm. This realism would be an excellent tool for building confidence and teaching judgment.
"Firearms should be issued individually and be made available for training and proficiency. Pilots will be encouraged to maintain proficiency on their own time. Shooting proficiency requalification should be conducted at least annually, but semiannually is preferred.
"Care of the firearm should be the responsibility of the individual, with the exception of parts replacement and other periodic armory maintenance.
- "The firearm is viewed as an additional, essential piece of emergency equipment. The pilot should be trained to a demonstrated level of proficiency.
- "The firearm will be deployed in the same fashion as any other piece of emergency equipment. In accordance with standard operating procedures, the pilot not flying (PNF) will be responsible for responding to a terrorist attack and the pilot flying (PF) will fly the aircraft.
- "The firearm will be used solely to defend the flight deck.
- "Training will include different types of tactical responses, to reflect the types of assaults that may occur.
- "Lethal force will be used with surgical precision against assailants who are at very close range. Multiple assailants wearing some type of body armor will be expected and tactics appropriate to defend against such attackers will be used.
"Weapon Carriage and Stowage