October 28, 2021

ALPA President Reaffirms Support for FFDOs, Aviation Security’s Last Line of Defense

At the Association’s the first-ever annual Inflight Security Symposium this week, ALPA president Capt. Joe DePete reinforced his unyielding support and commitment to the airline pilots who volunteer to be the “last line of defense.” DePete stood shoulder to shoulder with the ALPA members who have led and actively participate in the TSA’s Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program.

More than 30 ALPA pilots and staff were joined by pilots from the Allied Pilots Association, Independent Pilots Association, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association at the ALPA offices in McLean, Va., on October 25 to collaborate and discuss the importance of the FFDO program, which emerged in the wake of 9/11 as a critical aviation security enhancement.

“These ALPA pilots demonstrate pure volunteerism, pure principled commitment,” DePete said. “They are prepared to stand in the way of those who possibly intend to inflict harm and destruction on a massive scale.”

The symposium highlighted how crucial the FFDO program is to aviation security, enabled discussions among stakeholders that brought attention to vital aspects of the program, and provided training that continues to support the lifesaving efforts of FFDOs.

Capt. Wolfgang Koch (DAL), ALPA Aviation Security chair, opened the symposium, reminding attendees: “While today was going to be the first day of the 66th Air Safety Forum, the postponement of that event provides us the opportunity to focus exclusively on the current and potential security threats to our industry.”

Koch reinforced the sentiment that those gathered for the symposium represented a commitment to collaboration. The security programs ALPA advocates for are more important today than ever, especially in light of the spike in unruly passengers.

Conversing with pilot attendees, DePete further highlighted that the FFDO program is continuously under attack by those who want to see it fail and that this symposium was critical to highlight the FFDO volunteers, the successes of the program, and the need for continued program funding by Congress and the TSA.

DePete noted, “The small per-mission cost for the program yields a near-incalculable return on investment in terms of the safety and security of our air transportation system. This should be an easy sell—and yet, every year, the program is at risk, and pilots have to advocate for and justify every dollar. I ask: ‘What’s the cost of not having this layer of protection?’ The answer is something no one should want to see.”

Monday’s symposium also served as an opportunity for ALPA’s president to recognize two of the program’s most stalwart supporters. “Capt. Koch and Capt. Darrin Dorn [ALA, Aviation Security vice chair], supported by the full weight of ALPA, have both been tireless advocates of the FFDO program and all of ALPA’s security efforts,” DePete observed. “Without their time and energy, the ‘final line of defense’ could have been a distant memory—until another tragic attack. I look forward to seeing this annual event continue the conversations on how to better serve these valuable security officers and express our profession’s gratitude to those who stand on that line and say, ‘Never again.’”

Guest speakers at the symposium included Dr. Bruce Hoffman, professor at Georgetown University who has spent more than 45 years studying terrorism. Kyle Klein, staff director of the House Homeland Security Committee, facilitated a discussion of the obstacles the TSA brings to the FFDO program, primarily in keeping the program viable. From the FBI’s Civil Aviation Security Program, Jeff Fuller, supervisory special agent, and Jessica Tipton, intelligence analyst, provided briefings on current threats to aviation. Lastly, Daniel Kuhn, deputy branch manager of the TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service, provided an FFDO update from the TSA perspective.

The symposium concluded with offsite training hosted by Capt. DePete and the TSA Aviation Programs Branch Federal Air Marshalls, where attendees received instruction on firearm use in low-light conditions and use of medical procedures for casualty care.

Watch for additional coverage of this event in the December issue of Air Line Pilot magazine.