Pilots May 'Shut Down System' If They Can't Carry Guns

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The aviation security bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators Thursday would allow pilots to carry firearms, under certain conditions. Some pilots say if those conditions are used to deny them guns in the cockpit, they may refuse to fly.

Capt. Bob Giuda, a former Marine Corps pilot and FBI agent, is now a pilot with United Airlines. Two of the United pilots killed on September 11 were his personal friends. He says the debate over arming pilots should end with the acknowledgement of one undeniable fact.

"The precursor to everything that happened that day, was the murder of eight pilots," he said. "Had any one of them had guns, it is very likely that, in that particular aircraft, the outcome could, and probably would have been dramatically different."

A summary of the aviation security compromise, published by House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), says the bill gives the Department of Transportation "the ability to authorize guns for use by the pilots." Other published reports indicate that pilots would be allowed to carry firearms, if they "received permission from the carriers."

But those limitations are exactly the same as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule 108.11, which existed prior to September 11.

That rule did allow armed individuals on a commercial aircraft, "if the person having the weapon is...authorized to have the weapon by the (airline) and the Administrator (of the FAA) and has successfully completed a course of training in the use of firearms acceptable to the Administrator."

Guida says the airlines used that exception to prevent pilots from being armed. He said for the airlines, it was a question of liability. But Giuda says the exception is no longer acceptable.

"We as pilots have been sitting here as victims, if you will, of the security system," he said. "In every case, the cockpits were left undefended. We had nothing, we're not allowed to have anything. They refused to consider us as a resource."

Giuda's local union "council" of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is one of several ALPA and Allied Pilots Association (APA) groups that have passed a resolution threatening a "suspension of air service" if they are not allowed to carry guns after completing federal background checks and training programs.

The resolution calls for pilots to be armed on a voluntary basis, and only after successful completion of firearms training developed specifically for them by the FBI or another federal law enforcement agency.

"We are tired of being relegated to the same status as the people we fly. We are not. We already have within our means the ability to destroy an airplane," Giuda argued. "Why is it that we are not given the ability to defend it?"

Giuda admits the resolution is an ultimatum.

"Either we get the right to protect our cockpits and defend our lives, and our passengers lives, and the lives of those unwitting innocents on the ground," he said, "or, we are going to consider shutting the system down in an appropriate manner."

The former federal law enforcement officer, who completed aviation security training identical to air marshal training in the Marine Corps, says the excuses given by those who oppose pilots being armed range from naive to "just plain dumb."

Giuda says the most frustrating question he has been asked is, "What happens if the terrorist gets in and takes your gun?"

"What happens if the terrorist gets in and I don't have a gun? He responds. "The outcome is the same. We're dead and there's going to be a big hole in somebody's back yard, or in a building, or in a nuclear power plant."

Giuda says it makes even more sense to arm pilots when the current alternative is considered seriously.

"Let's say the terrorist gets control of the airplane. Air traffic control tells them to turn left and they don't. The next thing that happens is they get shot down," he continued. "It's ludicrous to say, 'We're gonna shoot the airplane down, but we're not gonna arm the crew."

"We need to have the ultimate answer in that cockpit," Giuda concluded.

Giuda's resolution is being considered by ALPA and APA councils nationwide. He could not predict when the threatened "Suspension of Air Service" might take place, if pilots are denied the ability to adequately defend themselves.