Good News, Bad News

Passenger airline pilots will soon be able to become Federal Flight Deck Officers and fly armed; cargo pilots will not. Other aviation security efforts move forward at varying speeds.

Air Line Pilot, January 2003, p.12
By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

On Nov. 25, 2002, President Bush signed into law the long-debated Homeland Security Bill to create the Department of Homeland Security, a Cabinet-level super-agency that will combine 22 separate federal agencies to protect the United States from terrorism. Bush nominated former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, who has advised the White House on homeland defense for the past year as head of the Office of Homeland Security, to serve as the new department’s secretary.

Title XIV: Arming Pilots Against Terrorism

Following is a synopsis of Section 1401 of Title XIV of the Homeland Security Act; this part, along with Section 1403, will directly affect airline pilots the most:

Section 1401 establishes the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) Program to arm certain passenger air carrier pilots. It mandates that the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security establish the FFDO program by the end of February 2003, and gives specific guidelines for doing so. This law is merely the authority for establishing the FFDO program—the TSA must work out the specifics by the end of February.

Highlights of Section 1401 include the following:

1. Within 3 months, the TSA must establish procedural requirements, including methods for selecting, training, and deputizing pilots.

By the same deadline, the TSA must establish

  • the type of firearm and ammunition to be used,
  • methods for carrying the weapon while aboard the airplane and off the airplane,
  • off-duty storage and transportation of weapons, both domestically and internationally, and
  • division of responsibilities during an incident (a) if only one pilot is an FFDO, and (b) if both pilots are FFDOs.

2. After the program is established, qualified volunteer pilots must begin training, the particulars for which will be set by the end of February.

3. Methods must be put in place for pilots to ensure that armed law enforcement officers flying as passengers are authorized to carry a firearm aboard the aircraft.

4. Preference for selection of FFDO candidates will be given to former military or law enforcement personnel; however, all pilots who volunteer and are found to be qualified may become FFDOs.

5. Only captains and first officers are considered "pilots" under this act.

6. Air carriers may not prohibit or threaten retaliatory action against FFDO pilots or those wishing to become one.

7. All training, supervision, and equipment necessary is to be provided to the pilot at no expense to the pilot or the air carrier employing the pilot.

8. The federal government and air carriers will not be obligated to compensate a pilot for participating in the program, or for the pilot’s training or qualification and requalification to carry firearms under the program. (Lost trips, training displacement, and personal time may have to be negotiated by each MEC.)

9. Neither the FFDO, the air carriers, nor the federal government is to be held liable for damages in any action brought in federal or state court arising out of use or failure to use a firearm. This indemnity will not apply, however, if the FFDO is found guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct while defending the flight deck of an aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy.

A copy of the Homeland Security Bill is available at

Other highlights of the act include the following:

  • Air carriers may be required to provide flight attendants with a discreet, hands-free, wireless method (yet to be determined) of communicating with pilots.
  • Crews must be given self-defense training within 24 months.
  • A study to determine the benefits of providing flight attendants with non-lethal weapons must be completed within 6 months.
  • The federal government has until the end of February to answer the request of airlines that want to allow pilots to carry less-than-lethal weapons.

ALPA’s National Security Committee, working with the MEC Security Committee of each ALPA pilot group, is working to influence the particulars of the FFDO program. ALPA members should forward any comments, requests, or questions to their MEC Security Committee.—ALPA National Security Committee

ALPA continues to be concerned that creation of the new Department of Homeland Security—estimated to swell to more than 170,000 federal employees in the largest federal government reorganization since World War II—may actually set back efforts to improve aviation security in some important respects. However, the act of Congress that created the new department contains some good news for pilots: It requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to create, by the end of February, a program to select and train qualified, airline pilot volunteers to use firearms in defense of their cockpits. (See "Title XIV: Arming Pilots Against Terrorism," page 13.)

Cargo pilots left defenseless

With the good news comes some bad news: The cargo airline industry managed to pull a fast one during the final legislative maneuvering to reach necessary compromises on the Senate and House bills—the new law specifically exempts cargo carriers from the requirement to allow pilots to defend their cockpits with lethal force.

On Nov. 14, 2002, ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, and the Master Executive Council chairman of the ALPA pilot group at FedEx, Capt. David Webb, blasted a last-minute lobbying maneuver that exempted cargo airlines from a federal mandate in the Homeland Security bill to arm airline pilots.

"Yesterday, in an act that defies logic and creates a serious threat to public safety, the air cargo industry managed a back-room deal to get the word ‘passenger’ inserted in the House bill’s provision for arming pilots," Capt. Woerth declared. "A similar change is expected in the Senate version. The effect of this single word change is that it exempts all cargo carriers from the federal mandate to arm pilots in a bill that was intended to enhance the pilots’ ability to protect their airplane.

"The Republican leadership is totally ignoring the will of the House and Senate, both of which already have voted overwhelmingly to mandate firearms for all airline pilots, not just those in passenger service," he continued. "And with votes of 310-113 in the House and 87-6 in the Senate, support was fully bipartisan."

Capt. Woerth acknowledged, "The mandate provides a significant increase in security, and that is a very positive development. However," he charged, "that the Republican leadership would intentionally create such an obvious loophole in cargo security is mind-boggling. This is an insult to Representatives Don Young and John Mica, Senators Bob Smith and Barbara Boxer, and the other members of the House and Senate who worked so diligently to provide all airline pilots with a last line of defense against terrorist hijackers."

Capt. Webb added, "This follows an all-too-familiar pattern. The air cargo industry has continually tried to circumvent safety and security regulations through waivers and exemptions. It was bad enough that cargo airline security had been overlooked in the rush to beef up airline anti-terrorist procedures after 9/11. Despite the fact that a hijacked cargo airliner makes just as deadly a guided missile as one full of passengers, not enough has been done to protect this segment of the industry from terrorist attacks.

"A cargo aircraft is devoid of cabin attendants and air marshals. However, at airlines such as FedEx, employees and vendors are routinely boarded. Political maneuvering by the cargo industry has shielded them from the level of security screening mandated for the passenger terminal. The entire burden for the security of the aircraft rests on the two or three pilots in the cockpit. There is little we can do to defend the aircraft against a terrorist attack. Stripping us of the ability to carry firearms in the post-9/11 environment is an appallingly irresponsible act. And the worst part is that it is our own managements that did this to us, with no discussion, no warning, no justification whatsoever."

ALPA represents cargo pilots not only at FedEx but also at Atlas Air, DHL, Gemini Air Cargo, and Polar Air Cargo, all of whom will be affected by the change.

Capt. Woerth concluded, "There is no basis for this blanket exemption from a needed improvement to security. It was done without regard to the needs of safety or security, but rather as a concession to corporate CEOs. I fear that this is a harbinger of things to come: actions taken not because of the public interest, but in response to business lobbying in the post-election environment."

Capts. Woerth and Webb met with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in mid-November to discuss ALPA’s concerns about cargo security. Capt. Bill McReynolds (FedEx), a member of ALPA’s Cargo Committee, met later that month with Elaine Dezenski, TSA’s specialist on air cargo, to further discuss these issues.

Canadian progress

On a happier note, Transport Canada announced on Nov. 5, 2002, that the Canadian government will develop a single, nationwide airport pass system for airline crews and airport employees to improve the security of restricted areas at Canadian airports.

"...pilots and other airport and airline employees must "invest in the process. It’s okay to tell us about your suspicions, even if they prove to be unfounded."
- Art Cummings, FBI Counterterrorism Division

The Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority (CATSA) will assume responsibility for an enhanced restricted area pass system for Canadian airports. Previously, the airports issued local passes to employees after they cleared background checks by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Although CATSA and the airports still have to work out some of the details, the system will include a centralized database of pass-holders approved by the RCMP. The system will likely be based on a pass card containing biometric data, linked to the central computers. CATSA has considered fingerprint- and handprint-recognition systems, but is said to be favoring retinal scanning.

A CATSA spokesman says the national system should be operational by this summer.

Interline jumpseating

In another area important to pilots, ALPA has more good news to report: recent tests of a computer system to permit interline jumpseating were very successful. The Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents most of the larger U.S. airlines, has completed a server-to-server test of online employment verification for pilots wanting to fly on another carrier’s jumpseats.

Subsequent steps in developing a viable system for permitting interline jumpseating are under way. ALPA will report on these developments, and the Association’s role in supporting them, in future issues of Air Line Pilot and via the ALPA website and FastRead.

Passenger awareness campaign

ALPA on Nov. 13, 2002, announced its participation in "Prepare for Takeoff," the TSA’s new passenger awareness campaign to inform travelers about new security measures at the nation’s airports. The campaign promotes a "checklist" approach to preparations and procedures that will help passengers prepare for travel before they go to the airport and help them after they arrive.

"‘Prepare for Takeoff’ offers practical checklists and other tips created to help passengers know how to pack, what to wear, what to expect in terms of security measures and other information that will help keep lines moving at the airport and ease the stress of air travel. More importantly, educated, aware passengers are a boon to airline security," Capt. Woerth emphasized.

Other partners in the campaign include airlines, travel agents, and customer service organizations that interact with passengers.

Educational information is available on the TSA website at 

ALPA Annual Air Safety Forum: Security

During ALPA’s 48th annual Air Safety Forum, held Aug. 19–22, 2002, in Washington, D.C. (see "Safety and Security: Meeting the Challenge," November/December 2002), several Forum panelists dealt with terrorism against aviation.

Art Cummings, a section chief in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, talked about criminal investigation and counterterrorism after September 11.

"There are no original thoughts out there in terms of weapons and tactics," Cummings asserted. "Disruption of terrorism is key to prevention. From a targeting standpoint, we look at what they did and try to plug that hole."

He added, "Since 9/11, cooperation with our allies’ intelligence agencies has resulted in hundreds of arrests and disruption of plans to blow up U.S. embassies."

Cummings argued that pilots and other airport and airline employees must "invest in the process. It’s okay to tell us about your suspicions, even if they prove to be unfounded."

Cummings said pilots should convey such suspicions or observations to the nearest FBI field office; the Bureau has 56 of them in the United States. Each has "a 24-hour presence," Cummings noted. A pilot attending the Forum said he could vouch for that claim; he called the FBI field office in Memphis at 1 a.m. to report suspicious activity and was quickly connected to an agent.

Capt. Dan Kurt and First Officers Scott Lofman and Mike Covington described their harrowing ordeal as the crew of United Airlines Flight 855, B-777 service from Miami to Buenos Aires, the flight on which a psychotic passenger tried to enter the cockpit very early on , on Feb. 7, 2002. The cockpit door’s "Katy bar" held, but the passenger managed to get his upper body through the lower panel. F/O Covington said that, when he struck the intruder on the top of the head with the flat side of the crash ax, the blow seemed not to faze him. F/O Covington had to hit him a few more times before he could be pulled back into the cabin and handcuffed.

United’s plan to give pilots tasers "is a good first step," Capt. Kurt declared, but added that a lethal threat needs to be met with lethal force.

Jean Barrette, director of security operations for Transport Canada, outlined recent changes in aviation security in his country. Aviation security roles and responsibilities there are divided among several agencies, with Transport Canada being the lead government agency.

The Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) was created in October 2001 in response to complaints from the "stakeholder community" about the lack of government consultation with them. By almost a year later, the ASAC had generated 47 specific recommendations, Barrette said.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), he added, was soon going to take over all preboarding screening. Security inspectors in Canada have multi-modal responsibilities, and in February 2003, a major initiative regarding maritime security will begin in Canada.

"Our goal is 100 percent screening of passengers and baggage," Barrette explained. The Canadian government has committed Can$2.5 billion to do so. Transport Canada has looked at three different kinds of biometric measures—fingerprints, facial geometry, and palm prints—to use in confirming personal identities.

Col. Kevin M. Burman, assistant chief of operations and plans of the 1st Air Force, talked about the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and fighter-intercept coverage, including the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Operation Noble Eagle.

"The threat we face today is complex, asymmetric, and defendable, but non-deterrable," he said. "Our heightened tempo of operations is likely to continue."

Before Sept. 11, 2001, NORAD’s mission was to protect the continental United States (CONUS) against any air vehicle approaching from outside the CONUS. "All our focus was directed outward toward this threat," the F-16 pilot admitted. "Airline hijackings were a law enforcement issue—the responsibility of [civilian agencies]."

On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States had 14 fighters standing alert at seven stations; 18 hours later, at dozens of sites, hundreds of aircraft were on alert. Today, tankers and fighters are constantly on alert, and air surveillance is ongoing; Col. Burman said he could not provide specific details for obvious reasons.

Operation Noble Eagle has multiple missions, among them to protect U.S. nuclear sites, chemical production facilities, and national special security events—for example, space shuttle launches and the Winter Olympics. NORAD pilots, Col. Burman said, flew more than 22,000 Operation Noble Eagle missions between Sept. 11, 2001, and the beginning of ALPA’s Air Safety Forum.

Tom McFarland, vice-president of marketing for C&D Aerospace, shared his company’s work on new cockpit doors. C&D developed a security division after Sept. 11, 2001. The airlines, McFarland said, wanted their retrofit doors to be the same as new production doors required to meet stricter security standards by April 2003. Coming up with the new doors, he added, has been a struggle for the airline industry because setting deadlines for beefed-up and new doors was an attempt to "schedule invention." Also, new certification requirements for cockpit doors were not specific, and interpretation of the requirements evolved over time.

Cockpit door design, McFarland noted, must balance four competing needs—ballistics, intrusion, decompression (venting), and ingress/egress. Ballistics, however, "drove the design."

Regarding ingress/egress, the challenge was to design the door in such a way that firefighters could enter the cockpit within 10 minutes—with no prior knowledge of the new door’s design or function—while using ordinary tools. In actual tests, firefighters entered the cockpit in less than 2 minutes on all aircraft models.

"The key," McFarland said, "was to use the weaker surrounding structure and tools that [a passenger] could not [carry] onto an airplane. The good news for pilots is, it’s hard to get in, but easy to get out" of the cockpit with the new door installed. A remote access control system has been developed to deal with all flight crew members being incapacitated.

As of August, C&D had delivered 400 doors total to seven major U.S. airlines. The company has ramped up production and expects to deliver 4,500 doors by the April 9, 2003, compliance deadline. So far, C&D has obtained special type certificates for doors for the B-737NG, B-757, and DC-9/MD-80/-90, with certification of more aircraft types in the works.—JWS