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TSA Drags Its Feet On Arming Pilots

Discussion in 'Legal' started by 2dogs, May 14, 2003.

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  1. 2dogs

    2dogs Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    the city

    TSA Drags Its Feet On Arming Pilots

    By Jeff Johnson
    CNSNews.com | May 14, 2003

    A representative of the Transportation Security Administration spent Thursday morning in front of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation explaining the TSA's efforts to implement the armed pilots program mandated by Congress in 2002.

    Republicans and even some Democrats on the subcommittee seemed unimpressed by the agency's progress.

    Stephen McHale, deputy administrator of the TSA, disputed those who accuse the new agency of dragging its feet on the training and arming of airline pilots who volunteer and meet qualifications for the program.

    "I would like to emphasize the TSA's strong commitment to the program," McHale said. "We certainly recognize the vote of the Congress last year, and we are strongly committed to implementing this program according to the direction we have received."

    The House passed the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act by a vote of 310 to 113 this past year. The proposal became law when it was incorporated into the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

    McHale noted that the TSA deputized the first 44 Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO) - the official name for participants in the program - on April 19. But subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said that the TSA should soon begin training more pilots more quickly.

    "The TSA is creating an overly costly, complicated and bureaucratic program," he said. "And some of the standard operating procedures just don't make sense."

    As an example, Mica questioned the psychological evaluations that FFDO candidates are required to complete and the continuous monitoring by TSA psychologists they endure during their training.

    "Pilots are already entrusted, believe this or not, with the lives of every single person on their aircraft and have complete control over the fate of that aircraft," he argued. "The extensive psychological testing seems unnecessary."

    Rep. Peter DeFazio (R-Ore.) agreed.

    "I find it particularly odd that pilots who are trusted to fly what was used as a weapon of mass destruction on 9/11 require additional scrutiny before they can carry a personal firearm to defend the flight deck," he said.

    That scrutiny may not be entirely designed to exclude pilots who are not psychologically fit to carry a weapon.

    CNSNews.com has learned that one of the pilots in the first FFDO class - a former career federal law enforcement officer and pilot for at least two federal agencies - was told approximately an hour before the end of the training that he would not be allowed to graduate.

    Although he was offered no explanation, sources tell CNSNews.com that the former federal agent "asked too many questions based on his previous law enforcement training and experience" that exposed flaws in the FFDO training.

    Calls to the TSA seeking comment on this allegation were not returned.

    Congressmen question TSA's claimed 'progress' on arming pilots

    DeFazio also challenged the TSA's alleged "progress" in implementing the FFDO program.

    "It seems that there is an embedded reluctance in this administration regarding this program," he said. "I fear that some of that has become institutionalized in the TSA bureaucracy."

    The congressman recalled that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta had publicly opposed the program and refused to implement it when Congress initially made it discretionary.

    The first head of the TSA - former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Director John Magaw - was replaced, DeFazio said, because he was "in some ways a real disaster."

    "It seems that they are adding as many impediments as possible, moving as slowly as possible and implementing some measures in ways that are problematic for operational reasons," he concluded.

    Although DeFazio would not elaborate in open session, CNSNews.com has previously reported that the TSA forces FFDOs to lock their guns away anytime the cockpit door is open, presumably the time when they are the most vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack.

    TSA makes pilots check guns when not flying plane

    In Thursday's hearing, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) disclosed that armed pilots are also required to stow their weapons in the cargo hold of the aircraft unless they are the pilot or co-pilot on duty.

    "A pilot who's on a passenger airplane and is going to fly in the passenger section, right now, he has to surrender - within a lock box - his .40 caliber to the cargo section of the plane; is that correct?" Pascrell asked McHale.

    McHale hesitated before giving his response.

    "We're trying to keep the discussion of the specific standard operating procedures of the program somewhat limited," he said.

    But Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Airline Pilots Association, confirmed the rule.

    "The current TSA rule insisting that the Federal Flight Deck Officers check and stow their weapons in the luggage and cargo holds of aircraft when they are 'dead-heading' or commuting is a gigantic operational problem," Woerth said.

    "It also violates every single precept for all other law enforcement officers. You never surrender your weapon or give it up or lose control of it."

    Woerth said the current rules on transportation and storage of FFDOs' firearms are "impractical, imprudent and need to be changed."

    Cargo airlines oppose their pilots being armed

    Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, said the 13 all-cargo airlines that comprise his group do not want their pilots to be allowed to participate in the FFDO program.

    Cargo pilots were included in the legislation passed by both houses of Congress, but the conference committee inserted the word "passenger" in front of the phrase "airline pilot" each time it appeared in the bill. The effect was to exclude cargo pilots from the program.

    "We believe that programs for securing the aircraft and screening each and every person attempting to board the aircraft provide the best means of defense against hijackers," Alterman said. "All-cargo [security] programs are both more efficient and provide more security than a program to arm the industry's flight crews."

    Woerth disagreed.

    "It's absolutely imperative that we put cargo pilots back into the Federal Flight Deck Officer program,' he said. "The security around cargo facilities, warehouses, ramps and airplanes is nothing remotely similar to passenger airplanes."

    Cargo planes also routinely carry a limited number of passengers, Woerth pointed out, and most cargo aircraft have no cockpit door to protect pilots from an attack and no complement of law-abiding passengers willing to help subdue a would-be hijacker.

    "If anybody needs guns, it's the cargo pilots," he added.

    Bill passed to include cargo pilots, first officers in program

    The subcommittee passed H.R. 765 on a voice vote. The legislation would simply remove the word "passenger" each time it appears in the original armed pilots proposal, reinstating cargo pilots to the program.

    An amendment to the proposal also passed that would allow commercial airline navigator/first officers - who work in the cockpit with pilots - to participate in the FFDO program as well.
  2. TarpleyG

    TarpleyG Member

    Dec 28, 2002
    North Carolina
    This McHale is a bold faced liar, plain and simple. They haven't been behind this from the beginning. What, we have all of about 40 pilots from the initial class and we are nearly six months into it now.

  3. 2dogs

    2dogs Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    the city
    we are nearly six months into it now

    If there was a "strong commitment" they would have been armed 09/12/01. Period.

    Or they would never have been disarmed at all.

  4. treeprof

    treeprof Member

    Dec 31, 2002
    Bush and his TSA flunkys have resisted this thing pretty much all along, so not surprising. If the Prez was really behind it, it'd be happening post-haste.
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