CAPTAIN DUANE WOERTH, PRESIDENT
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
THE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THE STATUS OF THE FEDERAL FLIGHT DECK OFFICER PROGRAM
MAY 8, 2003
Good morning. I am Duane Woerth, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. ALPA is the nation’s largest pilot union, representing more than 65,000 pilots who fly for 42 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.
Just a little more than one year ago, on May 2, 2002, to be exact, the chairman of ALPA’s National Security Committee, Captain Stephen Luckey, who accompanies me today, testified before this Subcommittee in support of creating a cadre of armed law enforcement officers from the ranks of airline pilots. At that time, public opinion was firmly in favor of creating this new security enhancement, but the prospects for making it a reality in Congress were anything but certain.
To your credit, Mr. Chairman, and that of Chairman Young and the other members of the Committee, you envisioned and acted on the potential for adding a highly effective and low-cost security deterrent and countermeasure that would protect the flying public, and national security, against future acts of airline hijackings. On April 19, 2003, the first 44 of what will soon become thousands of Federal Flight Deck Officers, FFDOs for short, completed a grueling, one-week training program. They are now flying the line while armed – Sky King and Wyatt Earp would have been proud.
First FFDO Training Class
Like any other new initiative, the FFDO program is experiencing some growing pains. However, TSA Under Secretary Admiral James Loy and his staff are to be applauded for their efforts to create the program within a few months of the November 25, 2002, signing of the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act (APATA). In December 2002, Admiral Loy chartered a multi-discipline government task force to propose design options for the FFDO program while considering all issues that the APATA requires the Under Secretary to address. The Task Force was directed to meet with government and aviation industry experts to seek information and advice. ALPA accepted an invitation to participate in all stages of that process and we extend our thanks to the Under Secretary for providing us with that opportunity.
Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, on February 25, 2003, the Under Secretary established the FFDO program. The first training class convened at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), in Glynco, Georgia, on April 13, 2003, and on April 19, 44 pilots were deputized and field deployed as FFDO’s. Speaking of that historic event, the TSA Under Secretary stated, "This program meets yet another congressional mandate. A highly qualified task force consisting of pilots, airlines, union groups and training experts worked diligently to develop this important and specialized program. Great care was taken to address training issues that will be exclusive to this program and we look forward to the deployment of these pilots as they add another layer of security to the skies." We appreciate that the TSA has come out strongly, and in a public fashion, in support of the FFDO program.
Our members who participated in the FFDO training last month reported that the defensive tactics and firearms training were excellent. The consensus was a certain degree of surprise at how physical the defensive tactics portion of the training was and how professional the instructors at FLETC were. Every one of our FFDO pilot members came away from the training with a tremendous degree of appreciation for the hard work that these instructors put into their mission. It may interest you to know that the instructors informed us, likewise, that they were very impressed with our students – each of the graduates took their training very seriously and excelled far beyond their instructors’ expectations.
ALPA is also gratified that this additional layer of security has been introduced in our industry, which is a critical component of the infrastructure of the transportation system and economy of the United States. In a relatively short period of time, much has been accomplished in the transition of the FFDO program from concept to reality. However, significant work remains to be done in order to ensure its smooth integration into the aviation environment, protect its integrity, and maximize its effectiveness.
Flawed FFDO Operating Procedures
Since their deputation a few short weeks ago, there is no evidence to show any deficiencies in the tactical training received by the initial cadre of FFDO candidates. However, the FFDO operating procedures developed by the TSA have several flaws, all of which we have made known to the agency. Some of these cannot be addressed in an open forum but we would be pleased to speak to them in closed session, at the invitation of the Committee.
The most significant issue is one of public record that relates to the prescribed method of weapon carriage. FFDOs are required to store their assigned weapons, loaded, charged and holstered, in a metal lock box, which is placed in a non-descript bag of the FFDO’s choosing. The FFDO transports the bag and its contents into the airport environment, and clears through the checkpoint using standard law enforcement protocols. If on mission status, once in the cockpit and with the door locked, the FFDO removes the holstered weapon from the lock box and secures it on the FFDO’s person. Anytime the FFDO leaves the cockpit, the weapon must be stored in the lock box.
An FFDO who is transporting a weapon on an aircraft while deadheading or commuting, must personally take the bag containing the weapon to the cargo hold of the aircraft, transfer it to a cargo handler, and personally watch the cargo handler place the bag in the cargo hold. When the aircraft lands, the FFDO must go on the ramp and personally retrieve the bag from a cargo handler.
This methodology is problematic for several reasons:
- Federal law prohibits placing a loaded weapon in the hold of an aircraft.
- Transporting a loaded weapon in a carrying device separate from its owner defies long-established law enforcement standards.
- The potential for theft or loss of a bag known to contain a firearm is very high.
- Objections have been raised, and rightly so, by ramp workers at one major airline over safety concerns stemming from handling bags that contain loaded weapons.
- Ramp workers may easily and mistakenly mainstream bags containing loaded FFDO weapons into checked baggage systems.
- FFDOs often do not possess Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) access credentials for the airport ramps on which they must walk in order to stow their weapons. In such cases, they are to use their government-issued FFDO credentials to demonstrate their authority to enter the SIDA. This methodology is non-compliant with TSA regulations that require all personnel to wear an appropriate ID on their outermost garment while on the ramp.
- In most cases, FFDOs will not know combinations to secure doors that allow access to and from the SIDA. In such instances, they will need to rely on the assistance of air carrier personnel.
To ensure the safety, security and retention of weapons, conventional law enforcement practices require officers to carry their assigned weapons on their persons. Because the law defines FFDOs as federal law enforcement officers, they should be treated as such, and when authorized to transport their weapons, be permitted to carry them on their person, as do their federal, state, and local law enforcement peers.
It is our understanding that the TSA has developed these unwieldy weapon carriage procedures because the APATA’s language states, "the firearm of a Federal flight deck officer does not leave the cockpit . . . if the pilot leaves the cockpit for personal reasons." This restriction runs counter to another provision in the same law, which requires that FFDOs be trained to "maintain exclusive control over the officer’s firearm at all times." The requirement also may cause an FFDO to place the weapon in and out of the lock box, and on and off his or her person, several times during a single flight. Anyone with at least a modicum of firearms experience knows that accidental discharges are most likely to occur when the weapon is handled, and its condition is changed. For the sake of safety, we urge Congress to correct this handling issue via an amendment to the APATA so that the FFDO is not required to handle the weapon multiple times to merely accommodate leaving the cockpit for personal reasons. Doing so can be done while leaving intact the FFDO’s scope of protective authority, the cockpit.
We also recommend that the law be amended to permit flight engineers to become FFDOs. The flight engineer is an FAA-certificated airman, like the captain and first officer, and we know of no logical reason why this group should be excluded from being trained as FFDOs.
Regarding the scope of the program, ALPA applauds and supports H.R. 765, which would lift the current prohibition on all-cargo airline pilots from becoming FFDOs. Notwithstanding the fact that the all-cargo carrier security programs are less stringent than those that apply to passenger carriers, cargo pilots are currently not afforded equal ability to protect themselves and the flight decks of their aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy. It is also worth noting that all-cargo aircraft routinely carry numerous company and non-company individuals behind the cockpit and it is impossible for the flight crew to ascertain that these individuals pose no threat to flight security. ALPA urges Congress to pass this legislation over the objections of cargo airline representatives, who have failed to demonstrate why their industry does not deserve to have a level of security that is commensurate with today’s threat.
ALPA likewise urges Congress to ensure that all-cargo pilots be included in the definition of "Crew" as cited in Section 44918(e) of Title 49, U.S.C. Doing so will mandate that these pilots receive the same classroom and effective hands-on situational training in the elements of self defense as is provided to crew of passenger carriers.
Both of these measures are necessary to achieve the "One Level of Security" that our industry and national defense require.
Privately Owned Firearms Training Facilities
Although we know that our members strongly favor the FFDO program, we have not determined what percentage of them will actually apply to become FFDOs once the program is available to all pilots, perhaps later this month. We have estimated that 25 percent of all airline pilots may actually volunteer and successfully complete the required training course, which would equate to tens of thousands of FFDOs. Obviously, the cost of training all of these pilots is a consideration that must be properly managed; the TSA is now estimating the cost of training an FFDO at $6,200, down from $10,000 earlier this year.
It is conceivable that large numbers of FFDO students could overwhelm law enforcement training facility capacity. Private firearms and defensive tactics instructional entities are eager to assist the government by providing such training at their own facilities, which could mitigate this potential problem. There are numerous, excellent training facilities around the country that could train to TSA’s standards.
However, ALPA’s strong preference is for all FFDO training to be done by and under the oversight of the federal government. This preference does not preclude the use of non-federal firearms and DT instructors working under federal contracts, but we would specifically preclude the concept of all private-entity instructors training at private-entity facilities with no federal instructor involvement. We arrive at this view for the following reasons:
- The FFDO program is a federal law enforcement officer program and it is essential that it always be managed and viewed as such. Turning over the training to a private entity would cast a cloud of doubt over the fact that FFDOs are actually federal law enforcement officers, a status that is paramount to the success of this program. Clearly, a private training entity could not deputize FFDO training graduates, so some federal involvement would be necessary regardless of how the program is structured.
- Federal instructors who are knowledgeable in airline operations and can address the policy questions that will arise during every class discussion must train the FFDO operational issues.
- TSA training standards are high, and must be kept high. While it is certainly possible for private training facilities to train to the agency’s high standards, these entities would need continuing federal oversight to do so. Since a federal presence will be needed anyway, there seems little to be gained in shifting the entire training responsibility to private entities.
We believe that the TSA should perform a study on the availability of federal law enforcement training facilities around the country that could be used to supplement FLETC’s FFDO training resources. We know that some of these facilities are underutilized – in fact, representatives from two such facilities, one in the northeast and another in the southwest – directly contacted us about using their complexes for FFDO training. The use of numerous training facilities around the country could help facilitate the travel requirements of our members and expedite the deployment of new FFDOs.
As an alternative, the TSA could explore the potential for using private-entity firearms and DT training instructors under contract. These instructors could comprise a core of the trainers needed to supplement the federal trainers who would provide the necessary federal oversight and operational training. This measure could help maintain the high standards of instruction needed, make instruction more readily available across the country, train more FFDOs more rapidly, and lower the costs of training each pilot.
Law Enforcement Officer Verification Card System (LEOVCS)
In conjunction with this status update on the FFDO program, we believe that the Committee may also be interested in learning the status of an effort that could significantly enhance security at the nation’s airport screening checkpoints. You may recall that in early 2000, the General Accounting Office performed an investigation that demonstrated how easily individuals using counterfeit law enforcement credentials could breach security at airports and federal office buildings. Amazingly, three years after the security weakness was made public, there is still no system in place at airports to protect against these types of breaches!
The GAO report on these activities, presented to a congressional committee in April 2000, demonstrated the ease with which undercover agents – acting as armed law enforcement officers – could carry firearms onto aircraft. The agents successfully penetrated 19 federal office buildings and two commercial airports using fraudulent credentials. At the two airports GAO visited, the agents declared themselves to be armed LEOs and displayed fake badges and identification. The agents were issued law enforcement boarding passes at the ticket counter. They presented themselves at security checkpoints and were waived through the screening process. As further, recent proof of this problem, in March 2003, an individual was arrested on allegations that he had used fraudulent Diplomatic Security Service credentials to fly armed on commercial aircraft.
Thousands of armed individuals claiming to be federal, state and local law enforcement officers are processed through security screening checkpoints each week on the basis of human inspection of credentials and badges. Since there are literally thousands of different credentials and badges in the law enforcement community, the airport police officer who is required to verify them at the screening checkpoint has an impossible task.
In response to the public report of this security weakness, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in May 2000 began developing the Law Enforcement Officer Verification Card System (LEOVCS). FAA, through its Aviation Security Advisory Committee, created a Law Enforcement Verification Card Task Force, comprised of federal agencies, such as the FBI, Secret Service, Department of State, Department of Defense, and Department of the Interior, industry groups, including the Air Line Pilots Association, Airport Operators Council – North American, Air Transport Association, as well as state and local law enforcement groups, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriff’s Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The Task Force recommended the strengthening of documentation requirements and procedures for law enforcement officers who need to travel armed as ticketed passengers onboard commercial air carriers. It also identified and tested an integrated circuit chip card and reader for use at airport checkpoints to verify law enforcement credentials. The card contains an embedded microchip capable of securely storing personal identification information, providing a highly reliable and secure means of quickly verifying the authenticity of law enforcement credentials.
The Task Force examined the potential of a system that relies on a database, but quickly discarded the idea when the law enforcement community unanimously voiced its opposition – on security grounds – to any type of verification system that uses a database. Thus, the LEOVCS that has been developed does not entail creation of a database, but rather, will authenticate and accept any authorized card except those cards that are individually prohibited.
With the support of the Task Force, the FAA and the National Safe Skies Alliance, a technology R&D organization in Knoxville, Tennessee, tested the LEOVCS at four airports with the cooperation of two airlines. The tests concluded successfully with a confidential report to the FAA in 2001.
The total cost of implementing the LEOVCS is very low (i.e., approximately $10 million to equip each of the 1,180 or so airport checkpoints across the country) when compared to other security measures that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. However, it is our understanding that the TSA has not implemented this system because the agency believes that the Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) system will ultimately perform the same function. We emphatically disagree with that assessment because, as stated previously, the federal law enforcement community unanimously opposes any type of system that requires federal agents’ identities to be placed into a database that could be compromised. Beyond that issue, the TWIC is in the early development stages and will likely not be installed at all of the affected airports for years. It should be noted that we do not view TWIC and LEOVCS to be competing and redundant technological systems. Rather, the LEOVCS should be seen and deployed as an inexpensive and readily implemented enhancement to TWIC.
The recent advent of armed FFDOs, and the need for processing them through security screening checkpoints, gives even more reason for implementing the LEOVCS. The TSA has said that in 2004, there will be "thousands" of FFDOs, many of whom may go through security screening checkpoints multiple times each day. The LEOVCS needs to be in place to verify positively the identity of individuals wearing pilot uniforms and carrying firearms, to ensure that terrorists do not gain illegal entry into airport secured areas and aircraft flight decks.
We ask this Committee to join with us in urging the TSA to implement the LEOVCS to address an immediate and pressing security deficiency.
Thank you, again, for the opportunity to present our views on the FFDO program status. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have.