Pilot Gun Training to Begin; FLETC to Host 48 for First Class
Stepzinski, Teresa, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer
BRUNSWICK -- Commercial airline pilots will begin firearms training April 13 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center near Brunswick as part of a new national homeland security program intended to prevent terrorists from commandeering flights.
Forty-eight pilots from several airlines are the inaugural class to undergo the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program training, said Suzanne Luber, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Admini- stration.
Conducted by TSA instructors, the training will conclude April 19. The pilots -- both men and women -- fly a variety of commercial aircraft on both long and short routes. As a security precaution, authorities won't reveal which airlines have pilots in the program, Luber said.
The program was established under federal homeland security legislation signed into law in the fall by President Bush.
Under the law, only pilots who volunteer, meet federal screening requirements and successfully undergo TSA training will be allowed to carry a government-specified handgun in the cockpit.
Airline pilot organizations had lobbied Congress to allow them to carry guns "as the last line of defense" against terrorist hijackings since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The program incorporates key recommendations from the Air Line Pilots Association. The union represents 66,000 airline pilots at 42 airlines in the United States and Canada. It was the first organization to propose arming pilots -- calling for the measure a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Although 73 percent of the membership favored arming pilots, not all said they would want to carry a gun, said John Mazor, association spokesman.
"Not every plane is going to have a pilot who is armed. But you won't know if your pilot is armed or not, and that's the deterrent. Because they won't know if the pilot's armed, they won't risk trying to take over the airplane," Mazor said.
The union worked closely with TSA to develop the training program. It also nominated 36 of the 48 pilots in the first class. In addition, union officials will be observing the training with an eye toward offering suggestions on how to improve the training, Mazor said. …