Millions offered for pilot gun training

Friday, April 25, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The federal government is making available $8 million to step up firearms training for commercial pilots who want to carry guns in the cockpit, officials said Thursday.

Capt. Fred Bates, an American Airlines pilot who helped lead the fight in Congress to arm pilots, said he has been bombarded with calls and e-mails from colleagues who want to be trained.

"Hundreds are going to sign up for this thing, and that number is just going to escalate," Bates said.

The Transportation Security Administration offered no estimate on how many pilots can be trained with the money, which is supposed to cover instruction through Sept. 30.

The first 44 pilots allowed to carry guns were sworn in as federal flight deck officers on Saturday after a week of classes, drills and testing at a federal law enforcement training center in Glynco, Ga.

They were nominated by their unions and selected by the agency. Future trainees will apply online.

Lawmakers last year overrode the Bush administration's objections to allowing pilots to carry weapons on the flight deck because of fears it would be dangerous and distracting. The airlines were opposed for the same reasons.

Pilots were concerned the administration would try to limit the program because of its earlier objections. Last week in Georgia they said they were happy with the initial training.

The next class is scheduled for midsummer, though the government does not know the size.

According to one estimate, about a third of the 100,000 pilots in the United States will volunteer to carry guns and complete the training in the next five years.

Some pilots are likely to be trained at a federal center in Artesia, N.M., as well as the Georgia facility.

Training a single pilot costs $6,200, but there are likely to be new expenses for equipment and training aids.

The course itself is unlikely to change much, he said.

His agency asked for $25 million to train pilots next year.

Airlines learned on Sunday which, if any, of their pilots were sworn in to carry weapons. The pilots trained on their own time and did not have to tell their employer because failing could have affected their jobs. Four pilots did not complete the course; the reasons were not disclosed.

Pilots hope the government will change the rules about how they carry their weapons so they can wear them holstered while going to and from the cockpit. They now have to carry the gun to the plane in a locked case inside a nondescript bag. When they leave the cockpit but are still on duty, they must keep the weapon in a lockbox.

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