Despite the obvious benefit of arming pilots against terrorist attacks on our airlines, substantial opposition to the program is still being brought by the Air Transport Association and its member carriers.
The most often sited concern is the air carrier’s liability for the actions of a Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO’S, or armed pilots) use of a weapon to defend the flight deck. Let’s look at this at this from two angles: First, since 9/11 almost all of the airlines have authorized in their official Operating Manuals a Federal Aviation Administration mandated and approved document that governs everything flight crews and airlines do and…
how they operate, including the use of force, up to and including lethal force, to defend the integrity of the flight deck. The legal use of a firearm by the FFDO is already a liability-free event for the carriers; Congress has made it so in the enabling legislation. The firearm is just a tool, not unlike the crash ax or fire extinguisher in the cockpit.
The logistical concerns of traveling armed within the airline system have been answered by making the FFDO’s federal agents. The necessary expense of training, equipping and implementing the program is being born at this time by individual pilots and the government, not the airlines.
Airline management, including my own employer’s chief pilot, have repeatedly stated and published in multiple places that “studies” show the cost and risks associated with the FFDO plan far outweigh the benefits. To this I say, produce the studies! They will not quote them and most likely the studies do not exist. Often argued is that the new armored cockpit doors, additional Federal Air Marshals (FAM-s) and improved screening systems have removed the need for FFDO-s. Let’s deal with each of these in order:
The reinforced door is not impenetrable; it is simply a barrier, much like a condom, and has to be used properly to work. The number of Federal Air Marshals is classified, but it is less than two percent of the 35-40,000 needed to cover each domestic flight daily. The cost of complete FAM coverage for all flights would exceed the current FAA annual budget. The claim of improved screening carries very little weight. Watch the news daily and you will regularly hear stories of prohibited items found on airliners, breeches of the checkpoints and panicked terminal closures. The checkpoints are improving, but are not yet, nor will they ever be perfect.
I have heard from fellow pilots, management, and industry observers that “some” pilots should not be trusted with guns. I can only answer that by stating that procedures are in place within the system to identify pilots who are psychological risks. Anyone who feels strongly enough about a pilot’s mental state or trustworthiness should utilize the tools available to deal with this problem. If we can trust them with the lives of hundreds of passengers, millions of dollars worth of airplanes, and literally billions of dollars of liability every time they leave the gate, we had damn well better be able to trust them with a gun.
Undoubtedly the real, well hidden reason for resistance to arming pilots is more primal, not unlike the politicians on the left, or the blue blood, country club Republicans on the right who support gun control. The real reason is that upper management is more interested in people control and their personal safety, not in real security.
In the late 1990’s, during a brief conversation with Doctor Jerald Post of George Washington University at an industry symposium about disruptive passengers sponsored by the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), I asked Dr. Post what upper management fears most. He came back instantly with two answers. One, that “big” money people fear being poor, not broke, but poor, best defined as the lack of access to capital and the ability to make money. The second, and not as shocking if you study history, is that they fear being killed by their own employees.
Airline management’s blind adherence to failed business models, mismanagement of the companies’ human and physical assets, or just plain inhumane treatment of employees, might just lead to one of their formerly trusted people walking in and killing a management member, the CEO, or a major shareholder–in management’s belief. This is the real (and ultimate) reason that they oppose guns in the hands of pilots.
"Cap-n-D" is an active commercial airline Captain currently working for a major carrier. This story is DefRev original content.