Thousands of Pilots Won't Fly Armed, Blame TSA - Part Three
July 7, 2008
(Editor?s Note: Adds response from Air Transport Association and clarifies identity of armed federal law enforcement investigators in the 18th paragraph.)
Read Part Two
Pilots say psychological screening designed to eliminate independent thinkers
CNSNews.com has been able to confirm some components of the FFDO psychological screening, which is conducted in addition to the FAA psychological screening required for all commercial airline pilots and any psychological assessments pilots have completed as part of their military or law enforcement experiences.
In addition to a standard written psychological assessment similar to those administered to all federal law enforcement applicants, FFDO candidates are sent for an interview with a psychologist who is usually a contractor, not an employee of the government. Of the questions asked during that evaluation, unarmed pilots and FFDOs alike said two trouble them greatly.
The first question with which pilots take exception is, "Would you like to be a fighter pilot?" The question is allegedly intended to identify individuals who might be "overly aggressive" and "prone to risk taking behavior."
Lambert, himself a former fighter pilot, called the query a "stupidly bogus question."
"The people who are actually running this program, it seems to me, don't want [candidates] that they consider 'overly aggressive,'" Lambert said, noting that the definition of such a phrase would be left to TSA managers who oppose the FFDO program. "That basically tells me that they want people who are going to be submissive to their every whim and who aren't going to question the way they do things."
Many pilots, Lambert noted, currently serve as fighter pilots in the National Guard and Armed Forces Reserves.
Price called the line of questioning, "complete and total nonsense.
"We're still getting emails, to this day, from highly, highly qualified pilots, F-16 pilots, B-1 bomber pilots who are being turned down," Price said, adding that many of those pilots routinely have access not only to the firearms they carry on their person as a military pilot, but also to nuclear weapons transported in the aircraft for which they are responsible.
The second question returns, indirectly, to what experienced law enforcement officers say is the "turf war" between TSA and FFDOs. Applicants are asked what action they would take if they were walking through the secure area of an airport, carrying their weapon inside its locked case, and "a crazed gunman started shooting people."
Law enforcement sources with knowledge of the psychological exam questions told CNSNews.com that applicants who indicate that they would take any action against the shooter are allegedly penalized. Those who say that, if safe to do so, they would remove their gun from the lock box and confront the shooter are allegedly disqualified.
APSA's Lambert, who holds a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and is a state certified firearms instructor, called the philosophy behind the question and TSA's interpretation of the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act "ridiculous."
"Unfortunately, right in the law it says their direct area of jurisdiction is the cockpit of the airliner," Lambert explained. "That, right there, is the very reason [TSA] came up with that question.
"If my life was in danger, of course I would use my weapon," Lambert, who teaches the class required to obtain a concealed weapons permit in his home state, said. "Of course you try to disengage, but if you can't disengage safely, and your life is in danger, you have every right to use that weapon to defend yourself."
Airlines and lobbying group also accused of discouraging FFDO applicants
Dean Roberts, who, in addition to his work as a federal law enforcement officer, was a firearms instructor for the DEA - claims TSA is not alone in trying to discourage participation in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.
"They are also in bed with the Air Transport Association (ATA)," Roberts alleged. "TSA is the one that administers the policies, but I'm sure ATA had a hand in writing it."
Doug Wills, spokesman for ATA, disputed those claims.
"I don?t believe it?s accurate to say, at all, that ATA: a) continues to lobby on this issue [or], b) was involved in the writing of any of the [specifications]," Wills said. "The imprimatur to do that rests solely with the TSA."
Wills acknowledged that the organization did oppose the legislation to arm pilots but that, "the pilots ultimately won on that issue."
ATA's board of directors expressed its disdain for the concept in a Sept. 5, 2002 letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
"[W]hile we are spending literally billions of dollars to keep dangerous weapons off of aircraft, the idea of intentionally introducing thousands of deadly weapons into the system appears to be dangerously counter-productive," the letter stated.
There was no mention in the letter or elsewhere on the ATA website of any opposition to the thousands of armed federal investigators - from various agencies with only tertiary law enforcement responsibilities - who routinely carry their weapons with them when they fly on commercial passenger flights.
One of the airlines' major complaints, before the program was enacted into law, was the potential legal liability linked to a pilot in their employ wrongly shooting someone. Congress responded by exempting the airlines from liability for the actions of FFDOs.
A second complaint was the potential inconvenience the law would cause the airlines.
"Will the training program disrupt the airline's ability to operate their schedules?" the ATA board asked in its letter to Feinstein.
But pilots say they, not the airlines, are the ones being inconvenienced, albeit willingly. Not only are pilots required to take time off without pay to attend the training, but they are also required to pay for their travel, food and lodging. TSA provides firearms, ammunition and protective gear and clothing for the trainees, but all other costs are borne by the FFDO candidate.
Pilots say negative factors diminish safety, propose changes to legislation
All of the negative factors combined, according to APSA, greatly reduce the number of pilots willing to participate in the FFDO program.
"TSA admitted publicly that they were not in favor of arming airline pilots. When Congress, basically, forced them to arm airline pilots, they left [TSA] with enough discretion that they could disqualify and discourage volunteers," Capt. Dave Mackett of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance said. "When the pilots saw all of this ... a very, very large percentage of them changed their minds."
"There are really good people who would like to [participate in] this program, to do the right thing," Lambert added, "who are being intimidated by all of this stuff."
Roberts believes the law "gave TSA way too much wiggle room."
"It just said 'the program will be administered by TSA,'" Roberts observed. "It didn't say 'it is going to be administered in the following way.'"
APSA members who have either been rejected by TSA or who have chosen not to try to negotiate the program's hurdles want to change the way the law is administered. But their proposal for reforming the law mandating an FFDO program is anything but unique.
"We think what makes sense is to look at what has worked in 36 states. In 36 states, there are 'shall issue' concealed carry laws that specify exactly what is required for a citizen to be issued a concealed carry permit," APSA's Price explained. "If you've applied, your criminal background check is satisfactory and you show evidence of having completed the training, you get the permit to carry a firearm."
Price believes a similar program for FFDO training and certification would greatly increase participation and provide a nearly immediate deterrent to terrorism.
"We think the population of airline pilots is at least as stable, trustworthy and reliable as the general population of the 36 states that have done this," Price continued.
"We think it makes sense to take the discretion away from TSA," Price added, "and mandate that pilots who apply for the program, successfully complete the background check and show evidence of satisfactorily completing the training shall be issued FFDO credentials by the TSA."
An FFDO who discussed the program with CNSNews.com said APSA should expect even greater resistance to its new proposal from TSA than to the original armed pilots legislation.
"These bad things are coming from the top and those people don't want to change the bad things," the FFDO warned. "They like it when they hear that it's messed up."
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