February 7, 2005

ARMED PILOTS — THE GOOD NEWS:

Two years ago, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program began training pilots who wanted to carry guns on flights to protect the cockpit.

Aviation sources tell Time that more than 4,000 pilots are authorized to carry guns, and each day they fly armed on more flights than do air marshals. The gun-toting pilots, who fly unidentified, now constitute the fourth-largest federal law-enforcement group in the U.S. Pilots in the program, as well as the Transportation Security Administration (tsa), which runs it, claim it has been a big success.

And the bad news:

But some pilots complain that the tsa has never embraced the idea, providing little follow-up after training and denying them basic intelligence data like the weekly suspicious-incident reports. “The government wants it both ways,” says one pilot. “They want us to protect aircraft, but they don’t want to pay much for it, cover us for injuries or even really treat us as law-enforcement officers.” tsa officials insist they are proud of the program and are reviewing how to offer more assistance and training.

I think it’s pretty clear that the bureaucrats never really liked this program, and haven’t moved any faster than they had to. And — as Bush’s failure to mention the program when rounding up security improvements in the State of the Union suggests — it hasn’t been a very big priority with the White House, either.

UPDATE: A reader from the Hill emails:

The opposition at TSA is much stronger than indicated by TIME. TSA has set up so many roadblocks for this program and even sent an email to pilots more than a year ago threatening them to stop complaining to Congress. Some of the highlights: They setup only one training site in the entire US, forcing pilots to take leave and pay their own way to get there. Rules in place require pilots to put their guns in lockboxes (even though Air Marshalls can carry them on their person) and force them to check them as regular baggage when they are not piloting a flight, leading to hundreds of lost guns at baggage claim. Also, pilots who sign up for the program (80% of whom are former military or law enforcement) must complete an intrusive psychological exam, on top of the one they take to be a commercial pilot. If the pilots fail the exam, the results can be given to their employer, but the pilots are not allowed to see them. The original number of pilots that signed up for the program was in the tens of thousands, but most dropped out after seeing all the hurdles and hassle that TSA has thrown up…

Sigh. That’s pretty lame. But that’s the TSA.

So how about a little White House leadership on this? Anyone? Bush? Anyone?

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