CAPTAIN STEPHEN LUCKEY, CHAIRMAN
NATIONAL FLIGHT SECURITY COMMITTEE
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
THE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ARMING FLIGHT CREWS AGAINST TERRORIST ACTS
MAY 2, 2002
Good morning. I am Captain Stephen Luckey, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association International’s National Flight Security Committee. ALPA is the nation’s largest pilot union, representing more than 66,000 pilots who fly for 43 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Let me state from the outset that our views on an armed pilot program go beyond our own membership. The belief that arming pilots is a necessary security measure is also shared by the pilots of American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, UPS, Air Tran, and Airborne Express.
It is certainly a pleasure to be afforded this opportunity to present our views on the subject of arming pilots – it is an issue that has generated significant public debate and no small amount of misunderstanding about our recommendations. I am confident that we can build a strong case for our position today, which ALPA was the first to recommend to Congress in September 2001, and at the same time help to clear up some pervasive misconceptions surrounding this topic.
We applaud Congress for passing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) last fall that contained a provision for arming pilots and protecting the flight deck. However, more than five months have passed since that bill was signed into law and there has yet to be any action by either the airlines or the Administration to implement this important provision. For that reason, we are particularly pleased that Chairmen Young and Mica have introduced their legislation that will require the TSA to implement a federal flight deck officer program. ALPA strongly endorses and supports this bill and we urge Congress and the Administration to work together to ensure its passage.
Before getting into the remainder of my remarks about firearms, I would note that, while the arming of pilots has received a great deal of media attention, ALPA has been instrumental in the development of dozens of other security recommendations, many of which were included in the ATSA. Further, Capt. Woerth was selected by the Secretary of Transportation to participate in the DOT’s Rapid Response Team on aircraft security and we provided dozens of proposals to that group that were included in the Secretary’s final recommendations. We would be pleased to discuss our views on any of these topics today as well.
A Continuing Threat
I would like to offer a perspective on the need for arming pilots that perhaps you have not considered. Eight pilots were killed on September 11th. The deaths of those eight pilots resulted in the transfer of aircraft control from authorized crewmembers to terrorists bent on destroying our country and its people. More than 3,000 people were murdered, billions of dollars of property damage was incurred, the nation’s economy was rocked and is still suffering, thousands of people were laid off, and billions of dollars of new spending will be allocated to security both in this country and around the globe for years to come – all because eight pilots were killed. It is obvious, or should be, that protecting the flight deck and its occupants against hijackers is now tantamount to protecting our national economy. We are convinced that the ailing airline industry, which is still profusely hemorrhaging red ink, could virtually disappear if another successful attack is launched against us. If the airline industry takes another downward spiral, it most certainly will harm hundreds of businesses as well.
The real tragedy in all of this is that the hijackings of September 11th were avoidable. More than 40 years ago, during the height of the Cuban hijacking crisis, we called for strengthening flight deck doors and arming pilots, among other measures. In 1961, the FAA amended federal aviation regulations, with Congressional support, to permit pilots to be armed with the consent of their airline – the agency removed that regulatory language in July 2001. The Young/Mica bill will restore the framework of what was so recently removed from federal regulations. We have also, at long last, strengthened existing flight deck doors and the airline industry is in the process of purchasing and installing new, bullet- and fragment-resistant doors – for those improvements we are certainly appreciative.
To underscore the risks that we face, I would like to pose three questions and follow them with the answers. First, is there still a risk of terrorists assuming control of an airliner and crashing it into a building? The answer that we are hearing from the Justice Department, the Office of Homeland Defense, the TSA and numerous other sources is an emphatic "yes." Transport aircraft, regardless of whether they carry passengers or cargo, must from now on be viewed as potential human-guided missiles if they fall into the hands of a suicidal terrorist. Osama bin Laden’s henchmen were remarkably patient, thorough, as well trained as any special operations unit in the world, and employed surprise attacks to great advantage using relatively innocuous weapons that they knew would go unchallenged through security checkpoints. From their perspective, the operation was a great success, not only in terms of damage, but also with respect to the amount of global media attention their acts garnered. History has shown that terrorists endeavor to repeat successes, so we must prudently assume that our enemies are planning for yet another airliner attack.
Second, if terrorists board an aircraft with the intention of hijacking it, will they be armed only with box cutters as they were before? We think that the answer to that is "probably not." The element of surprise from a box cutter-type attack is gone and small knives are now confiscated at security checkpoints, so we must assume that terrorists will be armed with some other weapons, which could include guns not taken through screening checkpoints and/or undetected explosives.
We have an unfortunate habit in this country of preparing for the type of security breach that most recently occurred – this is the equivalent of locking the barn door after the horse is stolen. What we must do instead is address, to the best of our knowledge and ability, all of the potential threats that exist, not just those that we have most recently experienced. Many in the airline industry and some in government seem to believe that we should not prepare to counter anything but close-quarters combat by unarmed assailants. Such tunnel vision is foolhardy and leaves us pitifully unprepared for the various types of hijacking attempts that may well lie ahead.
Lastly, do we possess the will to do all that we can to avoid another catastrophe? I can tell you without equivocation that many pilots are willing and prepared to assume the responsibility for training and carrying a weapon. They are willing to do so as both a deterrent against hijacking attempts and as a means of preventing an attempt from becoming successful. With the support of Chairmen Young and Mica, and others who understand what is at stake, we are hopeful that the eventual outcome of this hearing will be a resounding "yes" – that Congress, on behalf of the American public, is also possessed of such a will.
You may be interested to know that I am one of about a dozen pilots selected in the mid-1970’s to be trained by the FBI to carry a firearm while performing my duties as a pilot. My airline’s president and the FAA approved that carriage to protect against the hijackings that were prevalent then. From my personal experience, I can tell you that I did not particularly enjoy being armed during the 15 years that I carried a firearm – but it was a duty that I voluntarily undertook. The weapon was worn at all times, which is an inconvenience, and there was definitely an increased level of responsibility and restriction of my activity that went with being armed. However, I thought that it was necessary to be armed then, and I believe that it is even more necessary for qualified and properly trained pilots to be armed now. We could wish that our threat situation was such that it would be unnecessary for pilots to be armed, but the events of September 11th and the ongoing threat of further violence against airlines make it a necessity, in our view.
The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program
There are many misconceptions about what ALPA has proposed with its federal pilot officer program, which is synonymous with the program under consideration by this Committee. We have not recommended arming all pilots or making the arming of pilots a condition of employment. We have instead recently petitioned the DOT to write a proposed rule to implement ATSA Section 128, Flight Deck Security. In comments to the DOT, we have specifically recommended that a federal pilot officer program be created. The main provisions of such a program are:
ØVolunteer to participate. Only pilots who volunteer to subject themselves to individual scrutiny, intense security training, at least annual proficiency testing, and the responsibility that goes with carrying a firearm would be allowed to apply for the program. Having carried a firearm on the flight deck, I know the challenges that must be met in order to make this program work. Stated another way, however, I know from firsthand experience that arming pilots can work and that doing so in 2002 will merely build on what has successfully been done before.
ØBe selected for training only after meeting strict, federal qualification standards. Each pilot who volunteers to become a federal flight deck officer would be professionally evaluated, like other federal law enforcement officer candidates, to determine aptitude for carrying and firing a weapon, exercising judgment, using lethal force against an attacker, and other abilities. We do not expect that everyone who desires to be armed will be armed, due to the need to meet the very highest law enforcement standards. However, many in our ranks are former military and law enforcement officers, or have other pertinent qualifications, and are quite familiar and experienced with firearms. Those individuals will make excellent candidates as federal flight deck officers.
ØUndergo training, provided by a federal law enforcement agency, specific to protecting the flight deck. Candidates should be provided approximately 48 hours of comprehensive training on all subjects pertaining to defense of the flight deck. These would include lessons on the law, the continuum of force, firearms training from a seated position and at close range, tactics and other related topics. We have recommended setting the shooting proficiency standard at 100%, higher than any law enforcement officer is required to meet. Doing so will provide a very high confidence level by the TSA and the flying public that the federal pilot officer is prepared to protect the flight deck in the safest manner possible. The Young/Mica bill stipulates that the TSA implement and provide oversight of the federal flight deck officer program in consultation with the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit. We believe that the TSA is a logical selection for these functions, given that it is responsible for writing and enforcing all aviation security-related regulations.
ØBe deputized as federal officers with jurisdiction restricted to the flight deck. Pilots would be given jurisdiction only to make arrests and take defensive actions for acts of interference with, or assault upon, the flight crew in the flight deck. Deputization is paramount for two significant reasons: first, it places liability for the actions of federally trained officers on the government, thereby relieving airlines of such concerns; and second, it allows the individuals to transport weapons across state lines and international boundaries, as do other federal law enforcement agents.
The Young/Mica bill provides an excellent framework for creating a federal flight deck officer program; we hope to work with the TSA in the actual development of the program’s particulars.
Reasons to Protect the Flight Deck with Federal Flight Deck Officers
Reasonable people may disagree about the need for arming pilots to protect the flight deck, but we are convinced that very strong arguments can be made in favor of creating the program outlined in the Young/Mica bill.
ØIt would protect aviation’s most important zone of defense – the flight deck. The U.S. Secret Service provides protection to VIPs using what they refer to as zones of defense. A VIP is protected by the most concentrated forces within the innermost zone. The flight deck is the inner, and most important, zone of defense for aviation security. Security measures are needed to protect the outer zones, such as explosive detection equipment and better training, but they are not a substitute for protecting the inner zone. Ultimately, if a terrorist is able to penetrate other zones of defense and enter the flight deck, the pilots need the proper resource – in this case, a firearm – to respond forcefully and successfully to such a life-threatening emergency.
ØIt may prevent the need for a U.S. fighter airplane to shoot down an airliner full of innocent passengers and crewmembers. An illogical conundrum has been unintentionally created by the Administration’s failure to act decisively to arm pilots. Pilots are not empowered to defend themselves against hijackers, but our own fighter aircraft, sometimes flown by military reserve airline pilots, will be dispatched to shoot down an airliner if hijackers gain control of it. We believe that our pilots should be provided the resources that they need to defend themselves against terrorists so that they and their passengers are at less risk of being shot down by our own military.
ØIt will create a high level of deterrence. Once terrorists learn that the U.S. has decided to begin arming pilots, commercial aviation becomes a much less inviting target, which is exactly what is needed. Even if only a fraction of the flights have one or more armed flight deck officers, terrorists will be unable to determine which ones are not protected. Ultimately, this deterrence will also reduce the likelihood that a pilot will ever need to fire a weapon while on the aircraft.
ØThe program will be highly effective and efficient. The flight deck officer program will not require the creation of a new, paid workforce. We can think of no other countermeasure against hijackings that comes close to the effectiveness and efficiency of using pilots to defend their own workplace. No one has a greater interest in doing so, and no one will take it more seriously.
ØPilots are exceptionally well-suited for protecting the flight deck. We believe that no one is more highly qualified for protecting the flight deck than pilots. Pilots are undoubtedly the most highly scrutinized employees, submitting to a battery of pre-employment evaluations, a flight physical every six months, random drug and alcohol testing, and a criminal history records check, among other formal examinations. Additionally, pilots are constantly interacting with and undergoing de facto monitoring by their airline’s management, their peers, FAA personnel, and others.
Pilots’ high level of discipline, attention to detail and ability to adhere to strict, standardized protocols lend very favorably to proficiency in safe, firearms handling. Furthermore, many pilots have former law enforcement or military backgrounds. We doubt that anyone is prepared to raise a reasonable concern about arming an airline pilot who formerly served as an FBI special agent or decorated special forces operative – these are the kinds of individuals who are prepared to serve as flight deck officers.
ØThe public supports it. Numerous polls of the general public have been taken to gauge support for arming pilots. Each of the polls that we have seen has indicated a high level of approval for letting pilots defend themselves in their workplace. This is in spite of the fact that the citizenry has little, if any, knowledge of the safeguards that will be built into this program. Returning the airline industry to strong profitability and growth depends on bringing passengers back to the airplanes. Passengers are unlikely to return to pre-September 11th traffic and fare levels unless and until they are confident about security. The passengers will not gain that confidence until they see evidence that pilots express the view that they are well equipped to counter any hijacking attempt.
Rebuttals to Arguments Against Arming Pilots
It has been our experience that the more an individual knows about ALPA’s proposal to arm pilots, the more likely they are to support it. We have found this to be true even within our own ranks. Those who are unfamiliar with our recommendations have raised several arguments against arming pilots that deserve to be addressed. Following are a few of the more commonly raised arguments against a flight deck protection program, and our answers to them.
ØNew cockpit doors make arming of pilots unnecessary. The newly designed, enhanced-security doors that are required by the FAA are not yet installed on the U.S. airline fleet, and that task will not be completed until April 2003. Neither the current cockpit doors (with interim measures in place to strengthen them) nor the new cockpit doors are impenetrable, and we are convinced that a team of trained terrorists could well decide to prove that point. Furthermore, airliners will have only one hardened cockpit door – a door which must be opened during flight to enable the pilots to use the lavatory and gain access to the passenger cabin as required for other purposes. Any passageway into the cockpit, no matter how well fortified, still holds the potential of a threat to the flight deck.
It is worth noting that the respected airline, El Al, uses two doors on all of its aircraft to protect the flight deck, along with a team of air marshals on each flight and an armed guard who protects an entrance zone in front of the door near the passengers. Per El Al procedures, the doors are never opened simultaneously to help ensure that unauthorized access to the flight deck is denied. While we strongly support the installation of a new, hardened flight deck door on U.S. aircraft as an additional layer of security, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that they are sufficient to protect the flight crew under all circumstances.
ØThe cost of arming and training pilots is too high. There is no question that there will be some expense associated with training pilots and equipping them with firearms. The program that we envision would require 48 hours of intensive training with recurrent proficiency training to be conducted at least annually. However, from the research that we have done on this issue, the cost of training and equipping pilots to carry firearms is the most efficient and cost-effective measure that the airlines can take to guard against further hijackings, bar none. In fact, these costs will be a mere fraction of the billions proposed for other, less effective security enhancements. The Young/Mica bill even proposes that the government pay the cost of training, which relieves the airlines from any cost concerns. Lastly, we must consider how many billions of dollars have been drained, and will be drained, from the national economy because airline pilots were not armed on September 11, 2001.
ØAirlines face liability if an armed pilot makes a mistake. This concern was satisfactorily addressed by those airlines that allowed some of our members to fly armed for many years, when it was still permitted under the federal aviation regulations. We believe that the federal government’s deputization of federal flight deck officers will virtually eliminate this concern and place the liability burden on the government, where it belongs. We would also question whether airlines are prepared to face a charge of negligent liability for opting not to arm their pilots, should terrorists ever again assault another flight crew inadequately equipped to defend the flight deck of their aircraft. The bill under consideration provides for elimination of liability for both pilots and air carriers as part of the flight deck officer program.
ØPilots are too busy flying the aircraft to use a gun. Pilots are trained to do numerous tasks simultaneously – individuals who cannot do so are unable to become airline pilots. One of the tasks that they must be prepared to perform is using fire extinguishers if a fire breaks out in the cockpit, regardless of other pressing duties. A suggestion that pilots should ignore the fire and continue to fly the aircraft would be ludicrous; yet some have suggested that pilots should ignore terrorists breaking into the cockpit and continue to fly the aircraft. This is utter nonsense.
ØAn accidental discharge could damage the aircraft and/or injure someone.
This country made a decision approximately 40 years ago that use of firearms by airborne federal officers was necessary to protect against hijackings. Some of the arguments that have been raised against arming pilots must, to be consistent, also be raised against armed Federal Air Marshals (FAMs), namely: bullets could pierce the fuselage and cause rapid decompression; an accidental discharge could injure or kill someone; or, an aircraft system could be damaged by gunfire. We have, rightly so, made a decision to accept those potential outcomes as manageable risks because there is a need for an armed law enforcement presence onboard the aircraft. No one has more knowledge of what can happen on the aircraft, nor will anyone be more conscientious about using a firearm onboard, than the pilot.
Further, contrary to Hollywood movie depictions of aircraft exploding in midair as a result of the discharge of a firearm in the cabin, virtually no danger exists that multiple gunshots could cause rapid decompression of a transport-category aircraft. The shooting proficiency that we recommend for the flight deck officer program exceeds that of federal law enforcement agents in order to minimize the possibility of a stray round hitting an innocent passenger or crewmember. If a weapon did cause rapid decompression during a struggle for control of the aircraft, that event would pale in comparison to the plane crashing into a building and killing all on board.
ØFederal Air Marshals (FAMs) on airliners make arming pilots unnecessary. ALPA is a strong supporter of the FAM program, and we envision the flight deck officer program as an extension of the FAMs. However, the number of FAMs is limited and will certainly never be sufficient to provide protection on each flight. A large band of terrorists could overpower the FAM team – difficult though that might be – and turn its attention to the flight deck, using the FAMs’ weapons. Ultimately, the flight crew must be able to defend the cockpit regardless of what other resources may be in the cabin.
ØWe need to keep guns out of airplanes. Incredibly, even a former high-ranking transportation official recently expressed this view on television. The truth is that law enforcement officers carry many weapons on our airplanes every day of the year with very few problems. Many of our members are former military and/or law enforcement officers who have defended this country and its neighborhoods using firearms. To suggest that these brave men and women should not be entrusted with lethal means to defend the flight deck against a lethal threat is, intentional or not, highly insulting to them. The argument to keep guns out of airplanes is also nullified by our nation’s decision to place armed FAMs on flights, as we have already said.
ØNo more terrorist attacks like those experienced on September 11th will occur. This sentiment is merely wishful thinking and cannot be substantiated. In fact, the intelligence community and the TSA strongly indicate that the threat to aviation is still very high.
Federal Flight Deck Officer Program Specifics
The Young/Mica bill calls on the TSA to develop the specifics for arming pilots in consultation with the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit. We certainly support that provision. In anticipation of the program’s development, we would like to offer some preliminary recommendations on pilot selection and training, tactics, and weapon carriage and stowage.
Selection and Training
ØIn concert with ALPA’s One Level of Security goal, the program should be available to every commercial airline pilot, regardless of the size of the aircraft or whether it carries passengers or cargo. No arbitrary limits should be placed on the number of pilots allowed to fly armed.
ØWeapon custody policy should be designed to be as practical as possible, while accomplishing the goal of effective lethal force cockpit protection.
ØPilots volunteering for the program should be chosen in a manner similar to that used to select any federal law enforcement officer, including suitability for application of lethal force.
ØTraining should include instruction on basic safety, weapon maintenance, retention, liability, force continuum and other appropriate subject matter, as is provided to federal law enforcement agents.
ØTraining should be limited to the scope of protecting the flight deck.
ØThe live-fire portion of training should be designed for the surgical application of lethal force at distances appropriate to protecting the flight deck.
ØFlight deck-specific Fire Arms Training Scenarios (FATS) should be created to provide virtual shoot/no-shoot exercises to help teach the student judgment concerning use of the weapon.
ØSimunitions (i.e., high-tech paint ball shot from a firearm) training, which is used by the FAM program, should be provided for live "perpetrator" assaults in a cockpit simulator using modified versions of the officer’s actual firearm. This realism would be an excellent tool for building confidence and teaching judgment.
ØAll training required by the program can be accomplished in a week, with approximately 48 hours of instruction.
ØThe firearm should be individually issued and available for training and proficiency. Pilots will be encouraged to maintain proficiency on their own time. Shooting proficiency re-qualification should be conducted at least annually, but semi-annually is preferred.
ØThe care of the firearm should be the responsibility of the individual, with the exception of parts replacement and other periodic armory maintenance.
ØThe firearm is viewed as an additional, essential piece of emergency equipment. The pilot should be trained to a demonstrated level of proficiency.
ØThe firearm will be deployed in the same fashion as any other piece of emergency equipment. In accordance with standard operating procedures, the pilot not flying (PNF) will be responsible for responding to a terrorist attack and the pilot flying (PF) will fly the aircraft.
ØThe firearm will be used exclusively to defend the flight deck.
ØTraining will include different types of tactical responses, to reflect the types of assaults that may be encountered.
ØLethal force will be used with surgical precision against assailants who are at very close range. Multiple assailants wearing some type of body armor will be expected and tactics appropriate to defend against such individuals will be deployed.
Weapon Carriage and Stowage
ØThere are many types of holsters and other retention devices available, depending on the selected tactical approach. The chest pack appears to be a practical solution for rapid deployment and comfort. There is an accommodation for an additional magazine in this device.
ØThe standard method of weapon custody by law enforcement agencies calls for the individual to carry the weapon on his person at all times. This may not be the most practical approach for pilots, considering the limited scope of flight deck protection and the implication of carrying the weapon frequently while deadheading. ALPA has suggested that firearms could be stored on the aircraft, in airline flight operations areas or carried at all times. Airlines, with pilot input, should determine what type of weapon carriage works best for their operation. This may be dependent on the type of aircraft flown and other variables.
ØFAMs use a locked box to store their weapons while laying over on international flights. Such a storage paradigm may be useful for airline pilots, who already store their flight bags in operations facilities at overnight airports.
ØProtection against accidental discharges (ADs) is a primary consideration and must be kept foremost in mind for purposes of training, weapon selection and stowage decisions.
ØMost ADs occur when the status of the weapon is checked or changed, primarily when loading and unloading. Maintaining the weapon in operational status has historically proven to be the safest option.
ØThe firearm should be available for practice and proficiency training for the pilot.
ØThere are several options available to address the challenges inherent in weapon carriage. There are devices that render the weapon into non-gun status, plus locks and containers designed to limit access to them by unauthorized persons.
ØInternational operations require separate considerations. Some or all of these may be solved by means of bilateral agreements currently in place and used by FAMs.
There is obviously more that can be said about the flight deck officer program and we will be happy to provide specific information on request.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear today and I will be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.