Final plan issued for arming pilots

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Commercial airline pilots won't be able to use holsters to carry guns into the cockpit under the final plan for arming pilots announced Tuesday by the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA will require weapons to be transported to and from planes in locked cases that are inside nondescript bags. Pilots may holster the weapons only when inside the cockpit.

"We don't want that weapon floating around inside the cabin," TSA spokesman Robert Johnson said. "It is for the express purpose, according to the law, of defending the cockpit during the flight."

Al Aitken, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said that carrying a gun in a locked case will increase the chances that it will get lost or stolen.

"We propose that we carry the weapon concealed personally on our body because that is the safest, most secure way for us to transfer the weapon," Aitken said.

Some pilots also object to the psychological testing they'd have to undergo if they volunteered for the program.

The TSA plan mirrors the recommendations made last week by a task force comprised of agency employees who met with pilots, airlines and aircraft manufacturers before settling on a proposal.

Pilots will be required to undergo psychological and background checks before being selected for a five-day training program that will include lessons on marksmanship, defensive tactics and legal policies, Johnson said. After finishing training, pilots would be issued .40-caliber, semiautomatic pistols.

Congress, which overwhelmingly approved arming pilots, didn't give the TSA any money to train pilots or pay for guns. The agency cobbled together $500,000 from various accounts for a test program for 48 pilots.

Johnson said the agency asked pilots' groups for nominations and expects to have them in the next week or two. The TSA will select the class and begin training this spring. Those who complete the training will be sworn in as federal flight deck officers.

The agency has asked for $20 million to run a broader program.

Only pilots who volunteer will carry weapons. It's unclear how many of the nation's 100,000 commercial passenger pilots will choose to participate, with estimates varying from a handful to 30,000.

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