Pilots blast TSA to speed more guns into cockpits
- Published Monday, August 25, 2003, by the Associated Press
Pilots want administration to speed weapons training to put more guns
By Leslie Miller
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Capt. Phillip Beall thinks 10,000 of his fellow
airline pilots should have been given guns by now and trained to use
them while in the cockpit.
Instead, he said, fewer than 200 have weapons because the agency in
charge of arming pilots is dragging its feet.
"They've turned it into a bureaucratic nightmare," said Beall, a
member of the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance, a grass-roots
organization that includes pilots from all the major U.S. airlines.
Beall flies out of Dallas.
Pilots are stepping up their campaign to pressure the Bush
administration into arming and training more of them.
The pilots planned news conferences Tuesday at airports in Miami,
Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Cincinnati to urge the
Transportation Security Administration to speed up the program.
Brian Turmail, TSA spokesman, rejects the claim that the agency isn't
moving fast enough. He said the TSA quickly created a training
program and application process for pilots, and now that those
elements are established, the pace of training will pick up.
Full classes are booked through the end of September, he said. The
number of pilots in each class is kept secret for security reasons.
Pilots lobbied Congress hard last year, arguing that guns would allow
them to supplement air marshals, who cover only a small percentage of
the 35,000 daily flights in the United States. The TSA, seeking to
address a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, froze air marshal
hiring in May.
The agency had opposed arming pilots, believing tighter airport
security, bulletproof cockpit doors and more vigilant passengers made
it unnecessary. Critics also said adding guns to airplanes was
But after it became obvious that Congress would support the program,
TSA chief James Loy reluctantly went along.
Pilots who volunteer for the program take a week of classes, weapons
instruction and hand-to-hand combat drills at a federal law
enforcement training center. Background checks and psychological
testing also are conducted.
Capt. Bob Lambert, president of the pilots' security group, said at
the current rate of 50 pilots a week it will take 15 years to arm the
estimated 40,000 pilots who want to carry guns.
The first 44 pilots to complete the program were designated "flight
deck officers" on April 19 and began flying with weapons. The second
class finished in July, and now classes are conducted weekly.
An upcoming move to a training center in Artesia, N.M., from Glynco,
Ga., will allow the agency to train more pilots, Turmail said.
Pilots, though, don't like the new location because it's difficult to
Former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., will speak in support of the pilots at
Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport.
"The government is throwing roadblocks in the way of fulfilling what
was a very clear congressional mandate," Barr said. "If the White
House would simply make a clear statement that this must be done, it
dramatically improves the chances of it happening."
On the Net:
Airline Pilots' Security Alliance: http://www.secure-skies.org