Thursday, March 19, 2009

A really bad idea from Obama: no more armed pilots on airliners

The last defense against airline hijackers: captain and first officer

I really can't believe this story. It's such a stupid move. From The Washington Times:

After the September 11 attacks, commercial airline pilots were allowed to carry guns if they completed a federal-safety program. No longer would unarmed pilots be defenseless as remorseless hijackers seized control of aircraft and rammed them into buildings.

Now President Obama is quietly ending the federal firearms program, risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology.


The 12,000 Federal Flight Deck Officers, the pilots who have been approved to carry guns, are reported to have the best behavior of any federal law enforcement agency. There are no cases where any of them has improperly brandished or used a gun.


Since Mr. Obama's election, pilots have told us that the approval process for letting pilots carry guns on planes slowed significantly. Last week the problem went from bad to worse. Federal Flight Deck Officers...indicate that the approval process has stalled out.

Pilots cannot openly speak about the changing policies for fear of retaliation from the Transportation Security Administration. Pilots who act in any way that causes a “loss of confidence” in the armed pilot program risk criminal prosecution as well as their removal from the program. Despite these threats, pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officers program have raised real concerns in multiple interviews.

Arming pilots after Sept. 11 was nothing new. Until the early 1960s, American commercial passenger pilots on any flight carrying U.S. mail were required to carry handguns. Indeed, U.S. pilots were still allowed to carry guns until as recently as 1987. There are no records that any of these pilots (either military or commercial) ever causing any significant problems.

Screening of airplane passengers is hardly perfect. While armed marshals are helpful, the program covers less than 3 percent of the flights out of Washington D.C.'s three airports and even fewer across the country...

I don't know about you, but I feel a lot safer about flying knowing that guys like Sully Sullenberger up front in the cockpit are packing heat so they can never again be overwhelmed by a couple of terrorists with knives.

I hope this turns out to be the foolish work of some excessively anti-gun new political appointee at the Department of Homeland Security that will be overturned quickly by the White House.

What do you think about this? Post a comment.


  1. Well, let's see.
    The chances of a bullet piercing an airplane's hull aren't fantastic, but they do rise surprisingly quickly to 100% if the bullet strikes one of the cabin's several windows.
    Also, even experienced professionals find it difficult to safely use a hand-gun in close quarters.
    Also, there is no viable escalation of force argument since the chances of a non-martyr hijacker taking control of a plane are close to nil.
    Also, any marshall worth a damn is going to prioritize disarming an assailant over drawing his own weapon.
    Also, bullets pass through people while light does not. Do you see how this goes? Even with a clear shot, what's to prevent the marshall's bullet from hitting someone behind the assailant or piercing the airplane's hull.

    No, this isn't some wackadoo gun control nut removing necessary protections. This is just what happens when adults make adult decisions.

  2. Fairly ridiculous. Your is a "what if" scenario with all kinds of assumptions that you populate with positives in favor of your argument. It doesn't at all take into account redesigned cockpit doors, and front of aircraft security procedures. It doesn't take into account the standard operating procedure at the time of 9/11 for a hijacking was to comply with the demands of the hijacker; it was not considered that a hijacker would be a suicide hijacker. Armed or not, a flight crew isn't going to let two guys with knives let alone one guy with a knife, into a cockpit.

    Your argument in favor of guns in the cockpit is completely uncompelling.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Important arguments to weigh, but there are counterpoints:

    -- The mere possibility of an armed crew is a huge deterrent to a targeting passenger aircraft, which al Qaeda favors because of their vulnerability.

    -- Other security precautions can be foiled by training and tactics. Keep in mind that the 9/11 attackers worked in groups of 4-5 so as to have enough muscle to overcome opposition, quite apart from the "standard operating procedure" at the time.

    -- The bullet-through-the-bulkhead danger is actually a lot smaller than has been sometimes hyped. Aircraft in the Boeing 727 and 747 classes have survived and landed with sizable holes ripped from the fuselage. Besides, I'd rather have a pilot wielding a gun with that hazard in mind than a "sky marshal" -- not a plum job in federal law enforcement.

    -- It's possible that a passenger might get hurt in the course of resisting a hyjacking, but it's possible now. The downside of a successful hyjacking outweighs that concern easily.

    All in all, we're safer, I think.

  4. armed crew is deterrent: speculation on your part. there's no data to demonstrate the claim.

    other precautions can be foiled: assumes those armed with guns cannot be foiled; that 4-5 armed individuals can currently get on the exact same flight.

    preference for pilot with a gun than a sky marshal: that's just lunatic fringe stuff. assuming both an armed pilot is on board, and an armed sky marshal is on board, engagement by the marshal implies the flight crew is still in control, whereas a pilot being engaged implies imminent loss or partial loss of control and likely a dead sky marshal. there is no reason to believe a sky marshal is less competent to fire a weapon inside an aircraft than a pilot.

    You have in fact not presented a counter point as you haven't addressed problems/vulnerabilities with either redesigned cockpit doors or aircraft security procedures. You've merely listed new arguments, all of which make assumptions of success without any analysis of the risks. Your position is pure conjecture.

  5. Thanks for the comments Chris. Perhaps I'm speculating, but there is not a lot of "data" to go on with respect to this issue. You're pov is equally speculative. I would point out that if it's "lunatic fringe stuff" to want armed pilots, then the 12,000 pilots who prefer to be armed are all on the lunatic fringe, so we'd all be better off not flying. And keep in mind that only 3% of flights have sky marshalls, while 100% have pilots. I suppose if I were a pilot, I'd be content to leave my gun on the ground if I knew a sky marshall would be on my flight. I'm not opposed to sky marshalls. It might be a good idea to have them on every flight -- it's just impractical and too expensive.

    I guess I'm just not as optimistic as you about the effectiveness of other security precautions. In a 1992 hyjack of an Air France jet, the terrorists were helped to bring weapons on board by collaborators among airport employees.

  6. a.) I'm not speculating. I'm being a cynic. It's entirely rational and appropriate to request seriousness if the discussion is going to have any merit. I'm not making claims of fact, that people are safer with pilots having guns. It's not incumbent on me to prove my assertions, rather those making claims should be at a minimum making compelling arguments, even in the absence of citing facts. That facts are hard to come by only increases the burden for a compelling argument.

    b.) I did not say wanting armed pilots is lunatic fringe. I stated that in the context of your preference for armed pilots rather than armed marshals. That's pretty far out there because the circumstances under which you'd have a pilot needing to use a sidearm are astronomically more dire and risky than a sky marshal needing to use his sidearm. And further no evidence provided on why you think the pilot is somehow in a better position (location, skill, judgment, what?) than a sky marshal to fire a weapon. A pilot abandoning his position to fire a weapon is a massively additional risk compared to a fire marshal who is merely abandoning his seat, magazine and pack of peanuts.

    I would sooner advocate the pilot's ability to lock out computer control to prevent anyone from taking over the flight controls, prior to vacating his cockpit position to engage in battle with guns.

    Also not part of the dialog is the use of alternative weapons such as a tazer. Why is a gun necessary? Is that too nerdy for the vast majority of airline pilots who come from military backgrounds?

    There's something irrational about thinking guns bring additional security, control, and authority to an already volatile situation with people that have a personal death wish. From any vantage point the introduction of gun raises the risks rather than reducing them.

  7. The Washington Times editorial has been removed.

    Did Obama censor it?

    You may want to read this:

    Debra J.M. Smith