Arming Pilots Against Terrorism: Implementation Issues for the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program
CRS Report for Congress
Arming Pilots Against Terrorism:
Implementation Issues for the Federal
Flight Deck Officer Program
Updated January 9, 2004
Specialist in Aviation Security, Safety, and Technology
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Arming Pilots Against Terrorism:
Implementation Issues for the Federal Flight Deck
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135) contains
provisions to arm pilots of passenger aircraft and gives deputized pilots the authority
to use force, including lethal force, to defend the flight deck against criminal and
terrorist threats. Participation in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program,
established under the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act contained in P.L. 107-
296, was initially limited to pilots of passenger aircraft. However, a provision in the
FAA reauthorization act (Vision 100; P.L. 108-176, 117 Stat. 2490) expanded the
program to include flight engineers as well as flight crews of all-cargo aircraft.
During debate over legislation to arm pilots, proponents argued that the potential
benefits of deterring or thwarting terrorist and criminal acts against passenger aircraft
outweighed the inherent risks associated with arming pilots. However, opponents of
policy allowing pilots to be armed with lethal weapons argued that such a program’s
safety risks and monetary costs significantly outweighed these potential benefits.
Risks cited included potential distraction to the flight crew, dangers that a weapon
discharge could pose to the aircraft or its occupants, and security concerns associated
with carrying firearms in secured areas of the aviation system. Proponents countered
that these risks could be effectively mitigated, but recognized that these are important
issues to be addressed for successful implementation of the policy to arm pilots.
With enactment of this legislation, focus on the issue of arming pilots has turned
to implementation of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program. These
implementation issues fall into four broad categories: 1) pilot selection and
screening; 2) equipment (i.e., firearms and ammunition and the risks they may pose
to aircraft and passengers); 3) training; and 4) operational procedures. This report
describes several implementation issues within each of these areas that may require
continued legislative oversight and possible clarification regarding the intent of the
legislation. The TSA has fully implemented the program over the last year.
However, continued concerns voiced by pilot groups over the implementation of the
program include: the extensive background checks required of applicants; the
requirement to transport issued firearms in lock boxes; and the inconvenient location
of training facilities. These issues, along with the possibility of using private
contractors to provide recurrent training for deputized pilots may be the topics of
continued congressional oversight.
This report will not be updated.
Pilot Selection and Screening....................................3
What types of screening and selection criteria are needed for
volunteer pilots prior to and while participating in the program..3
What are the tradeoffs between firearms effectiveness and risk to the
Who should conduct the training?.............................7
What will the training consist of ?.............................9
How will the effectiveness of the training be evaluated?..........10
Storage and Transportation of the Firearm.....................10
Airport Security Screening..................................12
Flight Deck Operational Procedures..........................12
What will the costs to the Federal government be?...............15
What will the costs to participants and airlines be?...............15
Scope of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program...................16
Should the Federal flight deck officer program be expanded
to include other pilots?.................................16
Arming Pilots Against Terrorism:
Implementation Issues for the Federal Flight
Deck Officer Program
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296) contains provisions to
deputize volunteer pilots of air carriers providing passenger air transportation or
intrastate passenger air transportation as Federal law enforcement officers, permitting
them to carry firearms and use force, including lethal force, to defend the flight deck
against acts of criminal violence or air piracy. These provisions are collectively
known as the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act. The program established under
this Act is the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program and qualified pilots deputized
under this program are referred to as Federal flight deck officers. Participation in the
program was initially limited to pilots of passenger aircraft, but has recently been
extended to include other flight crew members, such as flight engineers and flight
crews of all-cargo air carriers (see P.L. 108-176). The Arming Pilots Against
Terrorism Act specified that within three months of enactment, the TSA was to begin
the process of training and deputizing qualified pilots as Federal Flight Deck
Officers. The TSA conducted a prototype training class in April 2003, and began full
implementation of the program in July 2003. Pilot organizations have estimated that
as many as 30,000 eligible pilots may volunteer to participate in the program.1
However, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects that number
may be much lower.2 Pilot groups have voiced concerns that as the program has
evolved over the past year, smaller numbers of pilots than expected have applied for
the program, because, in their opinion, the application procedures imposed by TSA
and the remote location of training facilities is overly burdensome to many pilots
considering participation in the program.3
During the 107th Congress, Representative Don Young and Representative John
Mica introduced the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act (H.R. 4635, 107th
Congress). At that time, the Bush administration voiced initial opposition to the
1 Sara Kehaulani Goo. “Pilots Press for Firearms Instruction,” The Washington Post, 15
November 2002, pg. E1; Alan Levin, “Armed Pilots Are Months Away,” USA Today, 25
November 2002, pg. A1.
2 Sara Kehaulani Goo. “Pilot Gun-Training Deadline Set,” The Washington Post, 25
November 2002, p. E3.
3 Matthew Weinstock. “TSA, pilots wage war of words over gun program.” Government
Exec Daily Briefing, August 26, 2003.
concept of arming pilots with lethal weapons. As amended by the Aviation
Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on June
19, 2002 (and as ordered reported by the full committee on June 26, 2002), the bill
contained a provision that capped participation in the program at 2% of eligible pilots
and limited the program to a two-year test period. On July 10, 2002, Representative
Peter DeFazio offered an amendment on the floor to remove the 2% cap on the
number of pilots who could participate in the program and also deleted the 2-year
sunset provision contained in the bill. The amendment was adopted twice by large
majorities and H.R. 4635 passed by a vote of 310-113. On May 25, 2002, Senator
Robert Smith introduced the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism and Cabin Defense
Act of 2002 (S. 2554, 107th Congress) which contained similar language to the final
version of H.R. 4635 (107th Congress) passed by the House.
On September 4, 2002, Senator Smith offered an amendment to the Senate
version of H.R. 5005 (107th Congress), a bill introduced to create a Department of
Homeland Security, that included provisions for arming pilots similar to those
contained in H.R. 4635 (107th Congress). On November 12, 2002, Representative
Richard Armey introduced H.R. 5710 (107th Congress) as a new vehicle for
establishing the Department of Homeland Security and for other purposes which
contained provisions for arming pilots. However, in response to lobbying efforts by
the air cargo industry, the language in this legislation limited participation in the
program to pilots of passenger air carrier aircraft. On November 19, 2002, the Senate
amended H.R. 5005 (107th Congress), incorporating provisions virtually identical to
H.R. 5710 (107th Congress). The House agreed to the Senate amendment to H.R.
5005 (107th Congress) on November 22, 2002, and it was signed by President Bush
on November 25, 2002 becoming P.L. 107-296.
Debate over the issue of arming pilots focused on the benefits, risks, and costs
associated with implementing the program. Proponents, principally pilots and pilot
unions, argued that the potential benefits of deterring or thwarting terrorist and
criminal acts against passenger aircraft outweighed the inherent risks associated with
arming pilots. Opponents of policy allowing pilots to be armed with lethal weapons,
including the airlines and several prominent aviation safety experts, argued that such
a program’s safety risks and monetary costs outweighed these potential benefits. Key
risks cited by critics of the program include:
!Added workload and responsibilities associated with participation
in the program that may distract pilots from primary flying duties
and safety-related functions;
!Risks of a firearm discharge to innocent passengers or aircraft
structure and systems; and
!A proliferation of firearms on aircraft and in secured areas of the
aviation system that is counter to other security objectives.4
4 See GAO-02-822R, “Information Concerning the Arming of Commercial Pilots”, for a
detailed outline of reasons presented by those favoring and opposing the arming of pilots.
Many of these concerns raised by critics of the plan to arm pilots have been
recognized by both Congress and proponents of the plan as key issues to be addressed
in program implementation.
In the first session of the 108th Congress, debate focused on whether pilots of
all-cargo aircraft should be included in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.
All-cargo pilots were initially excluded from the program in the final wording of the
Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296). In the first session of the 108th
Congress, several legislative vehicles were introduced to expand the program to
cargo pilots as well as to other flight crew members, such as flight engineers. On
February 13, 2003, Rep. John Mica introduced H.R. 765, and on March 5, 2003 Sen.
Bunning introduced S. 516. Both bills sought to include cargo pilots in the Federal
Flight Deck Officer Program, while S. 516 sought to also include other flight crew
members such as flight engineers. A separate stand-alone bill (S. 1657) introduced
by Senator Bunning was passed by the Senate on November 10, 2003. Similar
legislation (H.R. 1049 and H.R. 3262,) was also introduced in the House. Also, the
Air Cargo Security Act (S. 165), passed by the Senate on May 9, 2003, contained a
provision that sought to include all-cargo pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officers
Program. An Amendment offered by Senator Bunning (S.Amdt. 903 to S. 824) was
included in the FAA reauthorization legislation (P.L. 108-176) and was enacted into
law on December 12, 2003. This provision expands the Federal Flight Deck Officer
Program to include other flight crew members such as flight engineers and to flight
crew members flying for all-cargo air carriers.
Implementation of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program requires
assessments of the standards and guidelines for: 1) pilot selection and screening; 2)
equipment; 3) training; 4) operational procedures; and 5) costs. To implement the
program, the TSA formed a task force to address these issues and developed a plan
for implementation of the program. While Congress has noted that the TSA’s
decisions regarding the methods for implementing procedural requirements of the
program shall be subject to review only for abuse of discretion, continued legislativeth
oversight of the program is likely to be an issue for the 108 Congress. Furthermore,
the 108th Congress debated and passed legislation (P.L. 108-176) allowing pilots of
all-cargo air carriers and flight engineers to participate in the program.
Pilot Selection and Screening
What types of screening and selection criteria are needed for
volunteer pilots prior to and while participating in the program.
Issues considered during implementation of the program include the process for
selecting and screening of volunteer pilots seeking to become Federal flight deck
officers. The legislation requires further assessment to determine whether additional
background checks should be required beyond that specified by section 44936(a)(1)
of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations.5 Additional selection and screening criteria
could help to ensure that pilots selected to participate are physically and
psychologically capable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities associated with
participation in the program and maintain the standards set forth by the program
while serving as Federal flight deck officers. Screening measures could be used to
assess whether a pilot poses a security or safety threat by possessing a firearm on the
flight deck or by being trained in the use of lethal force.
Proponents of this new law point out that pilots already undergo rigorous pre-
employment evaluations and screening throughout their careers with an air carrier.
Captain Stephen Luckey, chairman of the National Fight Security Committee of the
Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), International noted that:
Pilots are undoubtedly the most highly scrutinized employees in the work force,
submitting to a battery of pre-employment evaluations, a flight physical every six
months, random drug and alcohol testing, and a criminal history records check,
among other formal examinations. Additionally, pilots are constantly interacting
with and undergoing de facto monitoring by their airline’s management, their6
peers, FAA personnel, and others.
On the other hand, despite pre-existing measures for screening and evaluating pilots,
recent examples of confirmed and suspected suicides and sabotage of aircraft by
flight crew personnel suggest a potential need for more detailed background checks7
of pilots wishing to participate in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.
However, there is little agreement on whether additional screening including
psychiatric evaluation of pilots would be able to detect pilots who would pose a risk
by participating in the program. Some argue that current screening and peer
monitoring of pilots are insufficient, and detailed psychiatric screening and
psychological testing is needed to adequately assess the mental health of pilots.8
Others argue that many common mental health conditions can be masked during
5 This section describes requirements for criminal history record checks and reviews of
available law enforcement databases and records of other governmental and international
agencies for certain airport and airline employees.
6 Statement of Captain Stephen Luckey, Chairman, National Fight Security Committee, Air
Line Pilots Association, International Before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, U.S. Senate, on Aviation Security, July 25, 2002.
7 Examples of confirmed deliberate acts by flight crew personnel to crash commercial
aircraft include an intentional crash of a Japan Airlines DC-8 in 1982, an attempted hostile
takeover of a Federal Express DC-10 in 1994 by an off-duty flight engineer who intended
to crash the airplane into FedEx headquarters, and the 1999 theft and intentional crash of
an Air Botswana ATR-42 into two other Air Botswana aircraft. Additionally, there have
been other high profile crashes of passenger air carrier aircraft, such as the 1997 crash of a
Silk Air Boeing 737 in Indonesia and the 1999 crash of an EgyptAir Boeing 767 off the
coast of Rhode Island, where intentional pilot action was suspected but never conclusively
determined. It should, however, be noted that none of these crashes involved flight crews
of U.S. flag carriers providing passenger air service.
8 See, e.g., James N. Butcher. “Assessing Pilots with ‘The Wrong Stuff’: A Call for
Research on Emotional Health Factors in Commercial Aviators,” International Journal of
Selection & Assessment, 10(1-2), March 2002, 168-184.
these evaluations. They assert that the costs of implementing such elaborate
screening measures would far outweigh the marginal improvement in assessing the
mental health of pilots beyond that obtained through the scrutiny pilots already
undergo. Proponents for arming pilots also argue that by having access to the flight
deck, a pilot intent on causing harm already possesses the means to do so, and
introducing a firearm on the flight deck does little to add to that already existing
capability. They argue that, historically, incidents of deliberate acts by pilots to
harm the airplane and its occupants are extremely unusual and current background
checks, screening, and evaluations of pilots are more than adequate for assessing
their fitness to participate in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.
The Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act specifies that pilots who are former
military or law enforcement personnel should be given preference to participate in
the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program. This could be one way to mitigate the risks
identified above, at least among the initial cadre of deputized Federal flight deck
officers by giving preference for participation in the program to persons that were
already deemed fit to carry a firearm. It is also of note that the law does not limit
participation to U.S. citizens. Therefore, another implementation issue is whether
additional background checks will be required for non-U.S. citizen pilots
volunteering to participate in this program. While provisions for waiting periods and
background checks have been established for foreign pilots seeking certain types of
advanced flight training in the United States since September 11, 2001, it is uncertain
whether additional background checks and waiting periods would be needed for
foreign pilots seeking to participate in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program,
particularly if the pilot has an extensive employment record flying for U.S. air
Currently, TSA procedures require that pilots applying for the program undergo
additional psychological screening, background checks, and a medical examination
beyond those already required of airline pilots. The Airline Pilots Security Alliance
(APSA), a grass-roots organization supporting efforts to arm pilots, has called the
TSA screening requirements unacceptable and redundant with many existing FAA
and airline screening requirements.9 However, the TSA asserts that the proposed
screening measures are similar to those used in selection of federal law enforcement
officers, including federal air marshals, to determine an individual’s fitness to carry
a firearm and act in a law enforcement capacity and are necessary to ensure that
participating pilots meet these same standards.10 According to TSA, about 6 percent
of the applicants for the program are screened out prior to initial training – 2 percent
fail to meet the qualifications specified by law, 3 percent are eliminated through
psychological screening, and 1 percent have problems identified by the background
9 See [http://www.secure-skies.org]
10 Keith L. Alexander, “Some Pilots Oppose Gun Rules.” The Washington Post, 13 February
11 Matthew Weinstock. TSA, pilots wage war.
What are the tradeoffs between firearms effectiveness and risk to
The legislation identifies the selection of firearms and ammunition as an issue
to be addressed in developing procedural requirements for the program. The
legislation also specifies that an analysis shall be conducted to assess the risk of
catastrophic failure of an aircraft as a result of the discharge (including an accidental
discharge) of a firearm into the avionics, electrical systems, or other sensitive areas
of the aircraft. The legislation further specifies that information developed in this
analysis shall be treated as classified information and not disclosed. If significant
risks are determined to exist, the Under Secretary shall take actions to minimize these
The selection of firearms and ammunition for use in the program is an important
consideration because the unique environment of the flight deck and the fact that
pilots are not primarily law enforcement officers make this program quite different
than other law enforcement applications of firearms. Opponents of arming pilots
have argued that a stray bullet could cause serious damage to aircraft systems and
structures and jeopardize flight safety. Speaking before the Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation, Captain Edward M. Davidson, Director of
Flight Safety and Quality Assurance for Northwest Airlines, cautioned that bullets
could pierce flight deck windows creating a potentially catastrophic cockpit
decompression, could strike one of the flight deck’s many multi-functional
instruments putting at risk numerous safety critical systems, or could strike critical
electronic navigation equipment located beneath the flight deck.12 A depressurization
of the airplane at altitude would necessitate that the flight crew use supplemental
oxygen and complete checklist procedures in response to the depressurization.
Similarly, loss of critical aircraft systems may require a flight crew’s immediate
attention. Accomplishing required safety-related tasks may prove difficult during a
struggle with intruders in the cockpit.
However, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Aviation, Mr. Ron
Hinderberger, Director of Aviation Safety for the Boeing Company stated that “[t]he
risk of loss of the aircraft due to a stray round from a handgun is very slight. Boeing
commercial service history contains cases of gunfire onboard in-service airplanes, all
of which landed safely.” Hinderberger further noted that “[c]ommercial airplane
structure is designed with sufficient strength, redundancy, and damage tolerance that
single or even multiple handgun bullet holes would not result in loss of the aircraft.
A single bullet hole in the fuselage skin would have little effect on cabin
12 Statement of Captain Edward M. Davidson, Director, Flight Safety and Quality
Assurance, Northwest Airlines before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation, July 25, 2002.
13 House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Press Release #253, May 2, 2002.
It has been reported that the weapon initially chosen for the program was a
Smith & Wesson .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol that is commonly used by law
enforcement agencies.14 More recently, it was announced that German weapons
manufacturer Heckler & Koch who makes a similar .40-caliber handgun was awarded
the TSA contract to supply up to 9,600 guns for the program.15 This award was
questioned, particularly by other bidders and supporters of “buy American”
principles. This prompted TSA to reevaluate the contract bids, but Heckler & Koch
again came out on top in the reevaluation process. The company is building a
manufacturing facility in Columbus, Georgia that will eventually supply guns for the
Federal Flight Deck Officer program and create about 200 U.S. manufacturing jobs.16
As the program evolves, further research and development of firearms and
ammunition more specifically tailored to the needs of Federal Flight Deck officers
and the unique environment of the flight deck may be needed. Factors to be
examined include enhancement of firearm effectiveness in the flight deck
environment and mitigation of the risks of accidental discharges, inadvertent
shootings of innocent passengers, and possible depressurization of the cabin or
disabling of aircraft systems from a firearm discharge. The law provides for
temporary suspension of the program if the firearm of a Federal flight deck officer
accidentally discharges due to a shortcoming in standards, training, or procedures
until the shortcoming is corrected.
Who should conduct the training?
The law specifies that training of Federal flight deck officers was to begin
within three months after enactment. Following enactment, the TSA convened a task
force to define the training program and address other implementation issues. The
law provides that the training program may be administered either by the Under
Secretary or by a firearms training facility approved by the Under Secretary. This
leaves to the Under Secretary’s discretion whether the training will be provided by
TSA facilities and staff, by facilities and staff of other Federal law enforcement
agencies or organizations, or by contractor facilities. One advantage of using TSA
facilities is that doing so could maximize standardization of training for pilots and
compliance with the standards and guidelines established by the Under Secretary.
It could also improve coordination of training and procedures between Federal flight
deck officers and Federal air marshals who will need to coordinate and communicate
effectively when dealing with in-flight situations that may arise. However, TSA
training facilities may become overburdened if large numbers of pilots wish to
participate in the program. TSA facilities and staff may lack the ability to administer
14 Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. “In Test, Some U.S. Airline Pilots May Carry Guns as Early
as April. The Los Angeles Times, 20 February 2003.
15 Richard H. P. Sia. “TSA revisits gun contract.” Congress Daily, July 30, 2003.
16 “TSA Reaffirms Decision On German Firearm Supplier.”, Congress Daily, October 22,
training in a timely manner that meets scheduling constraints of the pilots, especially
given that the pilots will need to complete this training during their time off.
One alternative that has been considered is to use Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) training facilities. In December 2001, the FBI released its
proposal for training airline pilots termed the “Cockpit Protection Program.” The
advantage of this plan is that it is already well defined and includes assessments of
the facility and staff requirements needed to administer the training. The
disadvantage of this program is that it removes the training from the direct control
of the TSA, who would instead assume an oversight role to ensure that training
standards established by the Under Secretary are maintained. Also, this arrangement
may not offer the opportunity for specific training regarding the coordination of
duties and responsibilities between Federal flight deck officers and Federal air
marshals. Another federal entity named as possible provider of training for Federal
flight deck officers is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) which
has facilities in Glynco, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Artesia, New
Mexico. These facilities may provide capabilities to train larger groups of pilots at
locations that may be more convenient to some, but like the FBI facilities, these
facilities may have limited oversight by TSA and may not offer the opportunity for
training on coordination with Federal air marshals.
Using contractor facilities and/or contractor staff to administer training to
Federal flight deck officers are also options, but ones that pose several challenges.
Extensive oversight of contractor provided training may be necessary to ensure that
established curriculum and qualifications standards are maintained. If multiple
contracts are used to train Federal flight deck officers, standardization of training
across vendors may be difficult to maintain. One advantage of using contract training
for the program might be the reduction of capital investment for facilities and
A prototype training program was held in April, 2003 used FLETC facilities in
Glynco, Georgia to train an initial group of 48 pilots. Full implementation of the
program began in July 2003 at the Glynco facilities as well as facilities in Artesia,
New Mexico. In September 2003, the program was moved in its entirety to the
Artesia, New Mexico facilities because that site has aircraft mockups for training that
were not available at Glynco and other law enforcement training at Glynco, Georgia
was limiting facilities available for the program there. Some pilot groups have
complained that the TSA’s reliance on a single site, and the remote location of the
Artesia, New Mexico facility (269 miles from the nearest major airport in
Albuquerque) creates a considerable inconvenience for attending the training.17
Admiral Loy noted that while the initial training is being conducted at federal
facilities, as the program evolves “...there very well may be a private sector
opportunity...” to provide the training.18 More recently, the TSA has indicated that
17 Brock N. Meeks. “Pilot gun training resumes amid flap.” MSNBC News July 15, 2003.
18 Hearing of the Aviation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and
they view initial training of the pilots as a federal function, so that trainees can be
appropriately evaluated before being deputized, but remain open to the possibility
that private firms can provide for recurrent training and re-qualification of federal
flight deck officers. However, TSA has indicated that it will make no decision on
whether re-qualification training should take place at federal facilities or TSA-
approved private facilities or some combination thereof until they have more
experience with the program.19
What will the training consist of ?
The Act specifies that the training of a Federal flight deck officer shall include:
!Training to ensure that the Federal flight deck officer attains a level
of proficiency with a firearm comparable to the level of proficiency
required of Federal air marshals;
!Training to ensure that the officer maintains exclusive control over
the officer’s firearm at all times, including training in defensive
!Training to assist the officer in determining when it is appropriate to
use the officer’s firearm and when it is appropriate to use less than
The Act specifies that the Under Secretary shall base the requirements for training
Federal flight deck officers on the training standards applicable to Federal air
marshals, taking into account the differing roles and responsibilities of Federal flight
deck officers and Federal air marshals. While many of the details of the Federal air
marshal training program are classified and cannot be disclosed, it has been reported
that the program consists of 10 ½ weeks of progressive training starting with basic
marksmanship, followed by reactive firearms training scenarios, followed by
advanced firearms techniques specific to the aircraft cabin environment, followed by
scenario-based exercises using wide-body and narrow-body aircraft mockups.20
Pilot groups including ALPA and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) have
suggested that initial training for Federal flight deck officers could be completed in
a 48-hour training program. Such a training program was derived from details
released in December 2001 regarding the FBI Cockpit Protection Program that
proposed a five-day, 48-hour training course in firearms handling, legal aspects, tort
Transportation Committee on Aviation Security and Impacts Associated with the Regulatory
and Statutory Requirements of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA),
Wednesday, February 5, 2003.
19 Statement of Stephen J. McHale, Deputy Administrator, Transportation Security
Administration. Before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee
on Aviation. U.S. House of Representatives. Status of the Federal Flight Deck Officer
Program. May 8, 2003.
20 J. Croft. “TSA Provides Rare Peek at Air Marshals,” Aviation Week & Space
Technology, 156(23), 10 June 2002, p. 54; Leslie Miller. “Pilots Anticipate Guns in Cockpit
by Spring,” Associated Press, Washington Dateline, 27 November 2002.
law, and policies regarding use of lethal force. The current TSA program similarly
consists of a 48-hour curriculum of classroom instruction, firearms training, and
The legislation also specifies that Federal flight deck officers will have to re-
qualify at an interval required by the Under Secretary. The FBI Cockpit Protection
Program specified an annual re-qualification interval. The selection of a re-
qualification interval will need to strike a balance between adequately ensuring that
qualification standards are maintained while ensuring that the process does not
overburden TSA resources or place an undue schedule burden on Federal flight deck
officers who will need to re-qualify during time away from their flying jobs.
How will the effectiveness of the training be evaluated?
The law does not specify any criteria or guidelines for assessing the
effectiveness of the program or the training provided under the program. Given that
the primary objective of the program is deterrence of terrorism and criminal acts
against the flight deck, effectiveness of the program in this regard will be difficult if
not impossible to assess. Successful deterrence may be indicated by statistics
regarding security incidents aboard aircraft. However, it will be difficult to attribute
any reduction in security incidents directly to this program. This is especially true
in consideration of the fact that the Federal flight deck program is but one component
of a larger effort to heighten aviation security in response to terrorist threats that also
includes enhanced passenger and baggage screening and the deployment of Federal
air marshals. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of certain elements of the program can
be assessed. For example, the effectiveness of training can be assessed through
evaluation of performance during re-qualification. Also, effectiveness of the program
with regards to risk management can be assessed though analysis of data on incidents
of firearms mishandling, accidental discharges, lost and stolen weapons, and so on.
Storage and Transportation of the Firearm.
Should the weapon be stored at secure airport facilities or carried
by the Federal flight deck officer traveling to and from duty?
The legislation identifies storage and transportation of firearms as an issue to be
addressed in establishing the procedural requirements for the program. The
legislation specifies that particular attention should be given to storage and
transportation of firearms on international flights and when the pilot leaves the
airport to remain overnight away from the pilot’s base airport. Pilot groups have
argued for allowing Federal flight deck officers to retain the firearm, particularly at
the pilot’s home base, and further advocate that Federal flight deck officers be given21
the opportunity to train with the firearm to maintain proficiency in its use.
21 See, e.g., Allied Pilots Association, Committee for the Armed Defense of the Cockpit.
Report submitted to the National Officers and Board of Directors, Winter Board of Directors
Opponents of such a plan argue that pilots carrying weapons both in airports and to
and from work could be the target of terrorists and criminals seeking to steal their
firearms and increases the potential for mishandling of the firearm and accidental
In February 2003, a TSA task force studying the implementation issues for the
Federal Flight Deck Officer Program recommended the use of lock boxes for
transporting the firearms. Pilot groups have voiced concerns that the use of lock
boxes undermines the intent of the legislation which they believe specifies that “...the
officer maintains exclusive control over his or her firearm at all times...”22 The TSA
has indicated that its decision is based on the very specific nature of the mission
outlined in the legislation which permits pilots to use their weapons only in defense
of the flight deck. The TSA considers the lock box as a means to minimize the risk
that the firearms will be used in other situations. However, the Airline Pilots’
Security Alliance (APSA) is concerned that the use of lock boxes to transport
firearms may make pilots particularly vulnerable targets for thieves seeking to steal
their weapons and provides pilots with no means for personal security to protect
against this threat.23 Currently, TSA requires the firearm to be carried in a secured
lock box and only opened inside a secure cockpit.
Should the firearm be concealed?
Concealment of the issued firearm is not specifically addressed in the legislation
but was a significant issue considered in establishing the procedural requirements of
the program. Carrying a concealed firearm would prevent the flying public from
determining which pilots were Federal flight deck officers. Doing so could prevent
Federal flight deck officers from becoming targets of attempts to seize or steal
firearms. Concealing the firearms could also benefit pilots who are not participants
in the program since individuals intending criminal acts against a flight deck will not
have foreknowledge of whether the pilots on the flight deck are armed or not. On the
other hand, carrying a concealed weapon in the airport terminal, outside controlled
access areas of airports, and during travel to and from work could complicate security
screening and law enforcement efforts to establish a pilot’s status as a Federal flight
deck officer authorized to carry a concealed firearm. Pilot groups have also raised
the issue of whether Federal flight deck officers will be permitted to carry backup24
firearms. It is common practice among law enforcement officers to carry concealed
backup firearms. Currently, the flight deck officers are only issued one weapon
which must be transported in a secured lock box that is concealed in pilots cases, but
not readily accessible to the pilot when outside the secured cockpit.
Meeting, February 14, 2002. Fort Worth, TX: Author.
22 Air Line Pilots Association. “News Release: ALPA Criticizes Serious Deficiency in TSA
Firearms Carriage Recommendation.”, Release #03.010, February 20,2003. Available at
[ ht t p: / / www.al pa.or g/ al pa/ Deskt opModul es/ V i e wDocume nt .aspx?Docume nt ID=2096] .
23 Sara Kehaulani Goo. “TSA Nearly Ready to Begin Gun Training for Pilots.” The
Washington Post, 20 February 2003, p. A8.
Airport Security Screening.
What identification will verify that a pilot is a deputized Federal
flight deck officer authorized to possess a firearm?
The legislation identifies methods for ensuring that security personnel will be
able to identify whether a pilot is authorized to carry a firearm under the program as
an issue that was addressed in establishing the procedural requirements for the
program. Adequate methods for preventing forgery of identification and accounting
for misplaced or stolen identification are needed to ensure that terrorists and
criminals cannot breach security checkpoints by impersonating Federal flight deck
officers. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA, P.L. 107-71; 115
Stat. 597) mandated the establishment of a uniform system of identification for all
State and local law enforcement personnel for use in obtaining permission to carry
weapons in aircraft cabins and in obtaining access to a secured area of an airport, if
otherwise authorized to carry such weapons. The TSA also currently has several
research efforts examining technologies for establishing a standardized
Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) and for exploring the use of
biometric technologies for identification. Future deployments of systems using these
technologies may provide enhanced capability to assure positive identification of
Federal flight deck officers. Federal flight deck officers are identified by credentials
issued by TSA, but specific procedures for verifying these credentials is considered
security sensitive information.
Where should screening and identification checking of Federal
flight deck officers take place?
If it is determined that concealing the identity of Federal flight deck officers
would be a desirable aspect of the program, then security screening of Federal flight
deck officers and other flight crew at security checkpoints in open public spaces may
diminish the effectiveness of the program. As previously noted, public identification
of Federal flight deck officers may have negative consequences for both Federal
flight deck officers who may be targeted in attempts to seize firearms and for pilots
not participating in the program whose flights may be targeted if it is determined that
a Federal flight deck officer is not on board. Screening of pilots in open view may
also compromise specific security procedures to validate the identity of Federal flight
deck officers. However, alternative arrangements for screening of flight crew may
be impractical, particularly at smaller airports where employee and passenger
screening are collocated.
Flight Deck Operational Procedures.
Where should the firearm be placed during flight operations?
The legislation identifies the placement of a Federal flight deck officer’s firearm
on board the aircraft to ensure security and ease of retrieval as an issue to be
addressed in developing the procedural requirements of the program. A holstered
weapon may present a safety hazard as it may interfere with the pilots full range of
motion and prevent performance of normal flight deck duties. A holstered weapon
may also be difficult to access from a seated position. However, alternative options
involving aircraft modifications for securing firearms on the flight deck would
require industry retrofitting of flight decks for all affected transport category
airplanes and FAA certification of these designs. Simple designs may be easily
approved and implemented. However, more elaborate designs for housing firearms
on the flight deck may require more detailed test and evaluation as part of the
certification process. Due to significant differences in flight deck layouts among
transport category aircraft, standardization across aircraft types in a manner that
optimizes positioning of the firearm may be difficult to achieve. These designs may
also have difficulty accommodating differences in physical dimensions and
handedness among Federal flight deck officers.
What coordination of flight crew and law enforcement personnel is
The legislation identifies interaction between a Federal flight deck officer and
a Federal air marshal on board the aircraft and methods for ensuring that pilots are
able to identify law enforcement officers authorized to carry a firearm aboard the
aircraft as issues to be addressed in establishing the procedural requirements of the
program. Such coordination will need to address concerns over concealing the
identity of Federal air marshals while allowing sufficient coordination between them
and Federal flight deck officers. Airlines have procedures in place for identifying
armed law enforcement officers and making these individuals known to flight crews.
These procedures may need to be enhanced and further standardized by TSA to
ensure that flight crews can easily recognize armed law enforcement officers on
board and coordinate with them if needed.
The legislation also identifies the division of responsibility between pilots in the
event of an act of criminal violence or air piracy for instances where either one or
both of the flight crew are Federal flight deck officers as an additional issue to be
addressed in implementing the program. This raises a question of what, if any,
training and educational materials regarding the Federal flight deck officer program
will be made available to non-participating flight crew and cabin crew members.
Currently, only very limited information about the program is available to them.
While, flight crews and cabin crews already receive initial and recurrent training in
FAA mandated crew resource management (CRM) training programs that facilitates
coordination of duties and responsibilities, airlines are unlikely to address the subject
of division of responsibility when a pilot must perform duties as a Federal flight deck
officer, citing that this is a Federal function and possibly fearing liability issues if
such matters are addressed in training.25 Furthermore, there is no requirement in the
legislation for training or education of non-participating flight crew personnel
regarding the program and most details of the program have not been released
because of their security sensitive nature. Thus, it has been largely left up to
individual Federal flight deck officers to brief non-participating flight crew on the
25 While the Act contains language limiting the liability of air carriers and Federal flight
deck officers for damages arising from a Federal flight deck officer’s use or failure to use
a firearm, there is ambiguity whether this protection would extend to other flight crew
actions, particularly actions related to flight operations, during periods when one pilot is
performing Federal flight deck officer functions.
coordination of flight duties if the flight deck were attacked. The coordination
among multiple flight crew members who are deputized Federal flight deck officers
is likely much less troublesome as they have undergone the same standard training
and thus have a better understanding of the division of responsibilities during an
How should disturbances in the passenger cabin be handled?
The legislation specifies procedures for ensuring that the firearm of a Federal
flight deck officer does not leave the cockpit if there is a disturbance in the passenger
cabin as an issue to be addressed in establishing the procedural requirements of the
program. Current guidelines and procedures prohibit Federal flight deck officers
from intervening in cabin disturbances. Rather, Federal flight deck officers are
instructed to use their weapons and training only in the defense of the flight deck
which is consistent with the intent of the law establishing this program.
Disturbances in the passenger cabin are left to be handled by flight attendants,
federal air marshals, or any other law enforcement personnel on the aircraft. Federal
flight deck officers are instructed to use their judgment and any available information
they can ascertain from flight attendants and so on to determine the best course of
action for diverting the aircraft to a location where ground based law enforcement
can intervene if needed. While the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (P.L.
107-71) specifies that the FAA may develop and implement methods, such as video
monitors or other surveillance technologies, to alert pilots in the flight deck to
activity in the cabin, such devices are not yet available, but are being developed.
What procedures should be established for opening the cockpit
door and leaving the cockpit?
Additionally, the legislation specifies procedures for ensuring that the firearm
of a Federal flight deck officer does not leave the cockpit if the pilot leaves the
cockpit for personal reasons as an issue to be addressed in establishing the procedural
requirements of the program. Procedures relating to opening the cockpit door for
other reasons are not specifically addressed in the legislation but were examined in
the implementation of the program. Reasons for opening the cockpit door and
leaving the cockpit during flight include flight crew meal and beverage service, flight
crew changes on long-duration flights, use of the lavatory, and abnormal or
emergency situations that require actions outside of the cockpit. Such events may
result in a physical separation between the Federal flight deck officer and his or her
firearm if the firearm is to be secured on the flight deck at all times. Occasions when
the cockpit door is opened and when the flight crew is moving about may in fact be
the most risky times with regard to a potential attack. Procedures may be needed to
address these various scenarios and mitigate the risks associated with opening the
What will the costs to the Federal government be?
The law specifies that the Under Secretary shall be obligated to provide all
training, supervision, and equipment needed for the program at no expense to the
pilot or the air carrier employing the pilot. Thus, direct training costs will be the
obligation of the Federal Government. This will include initial training and
qualification as well as recurrent training and re-qualification of pilots in the
program. The Federal Government is also obligated to provide equipment needed for
the program. These equipment expenses will primarily consist of issued firearms and
ammunition as well as any equipment needed to maintain the firearms. This may
also include facilities to house firearms at airports. The Federal Government will
also incur the costs of additional background checks or screening that may be
necessary to determine the fitness of a pilot to participate in the program.
Total costs to the Federal Government for the program will be highly dependent
on the number of pilots that volunteer and qualify to participate in the program as
well as the rate at which pilots are trained and deputized. Congressional Budget
Office (CBO) cost estimates for the program were based upon earlier proposed
legislation (107th Congress, H.R. 4635) that limited participation to 2 percent of
pilots employed by air carriers. In this estimate, the CBO assumed that it would cost
about $8,000 per pilot annually to cover the costs of equipment, training, and travel.26
This figure does not include costs required to manage the program. In preparing to
implement the prototype program, TSA has indicated that it will cost about $10,400
per pilot for training and equipment. The TSA budgeted a total $500,000 to conduct
the prototype program.27 In the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution for FY2003
(P.L. 108-7), the TSA was given $8 million to startup the Federal Flight Deck Officer
program and begin full scale implementation of the program which began in July,
more than 2,000 pilots could be deputized as Federal Flight Deck Officers by the end
of FY 2004 assuming TSA is able to conduct the background screening and training
for this number of pilots over the course of the fiscal year. Currently, TSA is
conducting weekly initial training classes of 48 pilots each.28
What will the costs to participants and airlines be?
The law specifies that pilots participating in the program shall not be eligible for
compensation from the Federal Government for services provided as a flight deck
officer. The law further states that the Federal Government and the air carriers shall
not be obligated to compensate the pilots for any training, qualification, or re-
qualification to carry firearms under this program. Consequently, pilots are not
26 Congressional Budget Office. “Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, H.R. 4635,
Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act.”, p. 2.
27 Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. Op. cit.; Sara Kehaulani Goo, “TSA Nearly Ready to Begin...”
28 Matthew Weinstock. TSA, pilots wage war of words.
compensated by the Federal Government while attending training. While the air
carriers employing pilots participating in this program are not obligated to
compensate pilots, such compensation may be a topic for negotiations between air
carriers and pilot unions. Consequently, policies may vary from one air carrier to
another. Similarly, indirect costs of training, such as travel to and from the training
site and lodging and per diem while in training, could either be paid by the individual
pilots participating in the program or by the air carriers employing these pilots.
While pilots may use their access to free airline transportation on a space available
basis for travel to and from the training site, it is likely that most other indirect costs
arising from participation in the program will be the responsibility of the pilots
themselves. Given the airlines’ early opposition to this program, it is unlikely that
compensation for pilots and payment of their indirect costs associated with
participation in this program would be a concession that airlines are likely to make
in negotiations with pilots unions. This is especially true in light of the economic
difficulties facing many airlines that prompted them to request tax relief from the
Federal Government and ask for concessions from pilot unions and other labor
groups rather than vice versa. Consequently, in the current economic environment,
pilots will most likely have to complete training, qualification, and re-qualification
during their own time and are likely to pay the indirect costs for training and
participating in the program out of pocket. One issue that may arise is whether these
out of pocket expenses incurred by pilots participating in the program will be tax
While the law specifies that equipment cost is a Federal obligation, it is
uncertain who would pay for cockpit modifications if it is determined that such
modifications are needed to store or secure firearms used in the program onboard the
aircraft. Even if the direct costs for making such modifications are covered by the
Federal Government, air carriers may be burdened by indirect costs associated with
removing aircraft from service to make any needed modifications. The current
program does not require any cockpit modifications.
Scope of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program
The Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act initially limited participation in the
Federal Flight Deck Officer Program to volunteer pilots of air carriers providing
passenger air transportation or intrastate passenger air transportation. The legislation
defines a pilot as a pilot-in-command (i.e., a captain), or a second-in-command (i.e.,
first officer) when a second pilot is required, and does not include flight engineers or
other members of the flight crew not meeting this definition. From the time the
legislation was introduced, pilot organizations have argued that the program should
be expanded to include other pilots and flight crew members, principally pilots of
cargo air carriers and flight engineers.
Should the Federal flight deck officer program be expanded to
include other pilots?
Proponents for arming pilots voiced concerns that the legislative language of the
Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act did not include all air carrier pilots.
Specifically, the language limits inclusion to pilots providing passenger air
transportation or intrastate passenger air transportation. Consequently, pilots of
cargo flights initially could not participate in the program. Nor could flight engineers
or other flight crew members who are not formally considered pilots. However, a
provision in the FAA reauthorization legislation (P.L. 108-176) expanded the
program to include all flight crew members of both passenger and all-cargo air carrier
Proponents for including cargo pilots among the cadre of Federal flight deck
officers note that layers of security protection similar to those in place to protect
passenger air carrier aircraft are not required for air cargo operations. They argue that
this leaves cargo flight crews vulnerable to potential terrorist threats against cargo
aircraft, including large and heavy aircraft that could be used in an attack similar to
that launched on September 11, 2001. They suggest that this vulnerability can be
mitigated by allowing cargo air carrier pilots to participate in the program. In a
statement issued November 15, 2002, Captain David Webb chairman of Air Line
Pilot Association’s FedEx unit, expressed the following view:
A cargo aircraft is devoid of cabin attendants and air marshals. However, at
airlines such as FedEx, employees and vendors are routinely boarded. Political
maneuvering by the cargo industry has shielded them from the level of security
screening mandated for the passenger terminal. The entire burden for the security
of the aircraft rests on the two or three pilots in the cockpit. There is little we can
do to defend the aircraft against a terrorist attack. Stripping us of the ability to
carry firearms in the post-9/11 environment is an appallingly irresponsible act.
And the worst part is that it is our own managements that did this to us, with no29
discussion, no warning, no justification whatsoever.
Opponents argued that the general public does not have authorized access to
cargo aircraft and therefore, enhanced ground-based security measures to better
protect cargo aircraft and improve screening of employees authorized to access these
aircraft would make deputizing cargo pilots as Federal flight deck officers
unnecessary. Some also argued that costly training for Federal flight deck officers
is not needed for cargo pilots, because the operational environment of cargo aircraft
does not introduce the same risks associated with arming pilots of passenger
aircraft.30 Consequently, a separate program, with separate standards, training, and
guidelines was considered by some to be more suitable for implementation in the air
Besides cargo air carrier pilots, other pilots, such as on-demand air charter pilots
and pilots flying for fractional-ownership programs, may also seek participation in
the program, although this has not happened to date. Proponents for including these
pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program may argue that currently there are
29 ALPA news release #02.101, “ALPA President Blasts Industry for Watering Down Cargo
Security”, November 14, 2002. Viewed November 18, 2003 at:
[ ht t p: / / www.al pa.or g/ al pa/ Deskt opModul es/ V i e wDocume nt .aspx?Docume nt ID=870] .
30 Risk factors in passenger air carrier service that are not applicable to cargo air carrier
operations include the presence of large numbers of passenger on board the aircraft, carrying
firearms in controlled access areas where large numbers of people are present, and
coordination of law enforcement duties and responsibilities with Federal air marshals and
other law enforcement officers on board the aircraft.
few, if any, security protections to guard against threats of air piracy and criminal
violence in these types of aviation operations. Arming these pilots, they argue, may
serve as the most viable means for providing security in these highly varied
operations where control of access to the aircraft and flight deck is more difficult.
Opponents of such a proposal argue that the inclusion of these pilots in the Federal
flight deck officer program would significantly increase the costs of the program and
would lead to further proliferation of firearms in the aviation environment that may
compromise other security initiatives. Thus far, there have been no legislative
initiatives to include these types of pilots in the FFDO program.