Rand Paul is right: we need to arm commercial pilots (PODCAST)

After 9/11, no excuse for not allowing all pilots to carry firearms.

by Ian Huyett


After Capt. Victor Saracini’s plane was flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, his widow – Ellen Saracini – became a leading crusader for increased airline security. In February 2014, Saracini said “We are today potentially more vulnerable to a breach of the cockpit than we were on Sept. 10, 2001.”

Saracini argues that, in relying largely upon the TSA to secure our flights, Congress has woefully neglected security aboard airplanes themselves.

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Saracini’s video shows how hijackers could storm a plane’s cockpit in the moments when its fortified door is opened.
Saracini’s video shows how hijackers could storm a plane’s cockpit in the moments when its fortified door is opened.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, airlines installed fortified cockpit doors to keep future hijackers at bay. Yet these doors are opened when a pilot exits or enters the cockpit. On many airlines, this opening is protected by a simple beverage cart – positioned in front of the cockpit door when it is about to be opened.

In a video produced with the help of several airline employees, Saracini has demonstrated that determined hijackers could brush past this obstacle in a matter of seconds.

How might a cockpit be more vulnerable to a breach today than in 2001? On Sept. 11, al Qaeda members had to guard the cockpit doors of the planes they hijacked. Today, says Saracini, hijackers who managed to enter the cockpit could simply lock the fortified door behind them, ironically using a preventative security measure to their advantage. Additionally, blocking a cockpit door with a beverage cart could inadvertently signal to hijackers that the door is about to be opened.

To address these problems, Saracini proposes installing a secondary gate on every plane. These gates, which would cost $3,500 each, have been rejected by most airlines.

Yet a different solution has been suggested by Senator Rand Paul: let every pilot carry a gun in the cockpit. “What is the most cost-effective way or preventing another 9/11?” Paul asked on “Hannity” Wednesday night. “I want all pilots to be armed… I have a bill to streamline this and the goal of my bill to have 100% of American pilots armed.”

Paul has suggested giving pilots more opportunities for training and certification.
Paul has suggested giving pilots more opportunities for training and certification.

Paul is right: this would be the quickest and most affordable way to secure the cockpits of American airplanes.

The proposal would be cheap: arming volunteer pilots costs about $15 per flight. It would also save money: federal air marshals cost $3,000 per flight. Additionally, air marshals are greatly outnumbered by the thousands of participants in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which arms volunteer pilots.

When the Obama Administration attempted to axe the FFDO program in 2012, one flight deck officer told CNN that “I think that this is just another example of essentially TSA and DHS mismanaging a highly efficient program, that operates on cents on the dollar compared to (air marshals).”

The Obama Administration hasn’t stopped its campaign to prevent pilots from defending themselves and their passengers. Al Aitken, a pilot and airline security expert, has said that the “Obama Administration has had an institutional hostility toward the concept of arming pilots… since the very beginning.”

Arming pilots is supported by experts and pilots themselves.
Arming pilots is supported by experts and pilots themselves.

Aitken blames the administration for the litany of superfluous background checks that pilots must undergo in order to participate in the program, including “checks that we had already endured just to become an airline pilot—checks with regard to security, financial, and criminal background checks.”

Paul has proposed streamlining the program by eliminating redundant background checks and allowing pilots to train at local police facilities instead of repeatedly flying to New Mexico for certification.

Paul’s proposal is common sense: especially after 9/11, it’s difficult to fathom how anyone could trick themselves into opposing it. So why is the administration pushing in the opposite direction? Paul may have the answer: he says the administration’s opposition to the program reflects “a lack of commitment to the idea of self-defense.”

A 2002 report by the Government Accountability Office, “Information Concerning the Arming of Commercial Pilots,” suggests that Paul is right. Under “Policy issues: Reasons presented by those opposed to arming pilots,” the GAO lists this concern: “Arming pilots would introduce 10,000-100,000 guns into our society, contradicting other efforts to discourage the number of firearms in the population.”

The odds of an accidental discharge, like the one that occurred in 2008, are incomprehensibly small.
The odds of an accidental discharge, like the one that occurred in 2008, are incomprehensibly small.

In other words, some opponents of arming pilots are driven by outright opposition to the idea of self-defense. These advocates of gun control are so determined to legislate civilian firearms out of existence that they would risk condemning whole planes to the defenseless victimhood of another 9/11-style attack.

Other opponents of arming pilots point to a 2008 incident in which a pilot accidentally discharged his firearm in the cockpit while attempting to stow it. Yet, while this mistake was unfortunate, it actually illustrates a further reason that we should favor arming pilots.

In an NBC article about the accident, Earl Dowell and Fu-Kuo Chang – professors of aeronautical engineering at Duke and Stanford, respectively – both said that even a rare mistake of this kind is unlikely to endanger passengers. “If not repaired, it may cause a problem. It could get bigger. For a single bullet, it would not be a factor for the safety of the airplane,” said Chang. “If it hit the window, it may be a problem for depressurization. I still don’t think it would cause a crash.”

“If they lost a window, the people near that window would have been substantially uncomfortable,” said Dowell. “You probably wouldn’t have crashed the airplane. But there could have been some frightened people.”

This single discharge in 2008 occurred on one of the thousands upon thousands of airplanes that fly over American skies every day. The odds of such an incident therefore appear to be astronomically, infinitesimally small. They would likely be reduced even further by Paul’s plan, which would give pilots more places to train.

Yet even this regrettable incident did not endanger the flight, and according to experts like Chang and Dowell, probably could not have done so. Both in terms of cost and of risk, then, there is scarcely any price to pay for this final and critical line of defense. Paul is offering the most effective – and the most fiscally conservative – way to ensure that the events of September 11th are never repeated again.

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