WASHINGTON, D.C.—- The head of the nation’s largest pilot union has told the Transportation Security Administration that the new rule governing how armed pilots would carry their firearms creates more problems than it solves.
Responding earlier to a draft of the final rule, Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said “We believe that there are significant security, safety, and liability issues that arise from the TSA’s proposed weapon carriage methodology.”Ê In a follow-up communication to Admiral James Loy, head of TSA, Woerth said that ALPA cannot endorse the procedure as written.
The requirement that pilots carry the firearm in a lock-box, rather than in a holster on their person, gives the appearance of providing protection for the firearm, but in actuality does just the opposite.Ê Law enforcement officers routinely carry their firearms holstered on their person because that is the most secure protection against loss or theft while transporting it during travel.
In arriving at this conclusion, ALPA consulted numerous experts on the use of firearms in law enforcement.Ê One of them, Wade Jackson, a retired FBI agent who served for nearly ten years as unit chief of the FBI’s firearms training unit in Quantico, Va., upon hearing of the TSA rule, said “The best way for a law enforcement officer to ensure the security of his/her duty weapon is to carry the weapon on their person.Ê A recent audit of FBI lost and stolen weapons by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General - an audit whichÊspanned nearly 30 years - did not disclose a single incident of theft when the weapon was secured in a holster, on the person, as FBI policy requires.Ê The audit also revealed that the vast majority of the weapons were lost or stolen when they were carried in some other manner, such as in gym bags, hand bags or briefcases.”
Lock-box carriage also raises numerous legal and security issues:
- If the TSA becomes aware that a weapon has been stolen from a Federal Flight Deck Officer’s (FFDO) bag located inside of a secured area, what actions will be necessary to ensure that the weapon does not pose a hijack threat to airline operations?
- Will it be necessary to evacuate all people from the air operations area and/or security identification display area to perform a search for a weapon that is reported missing?Ê Will both the origin and destination airports be affected?Ê If the weapon is never found, how will the TSA determine that the weapon is not within the secured area?
- If an FFDO’s weapon is stolen while in the control of the airline and out of the FFDO’s immediate possession, which is liable - the airline, the TSA, or both?Ê (This already is a widespread problem for the theft and loss of ordinary checked luggage of passengers under the post-9/11 security procedures.)
- If a crime is committed with a weapon stolen while in the control of the airline, but out of the FFDO’s immediate possession, which is liable - the airline, the TSA, or both?
- What liability does the FFDO face if his or her weapon is stolen while out of his or her immediate possession and used to commit a crime?
- What provisions has the TSA made to provide an alternate weapon if the FFDO’s firearm is lost or stolen while they are deadheading or commuting and need the weapon during the remainder of their travels as operating crewmembers?
The TSA rule also apparently violates a specific provision in the law that created the FFDO program, requiring training “to ensure that the officer maintains exclusive control over the officer’s firearm at all times…”Ê The TSA rule would require an FFDO pilot who is flying as a passenger (deadheading or commuting) to have the weapon stowed in the cargo hold - where it would not be under the officer’s control.
TSA has indicated that it will review the program after the initial class of 48 pilot applicants has been trained and deployed and make any necessary improvements.Ê We are hopeful that by that point the TSA will realize that the lock-box option is seriously flawed.Ê Failing that, because of the many concerns over this procedure, ALPA will pursue all options, up to and including legal and/or legislative action, to correct this problem.