Flak Continues Over Cuts to Armed-pilot Program

 - March 23, 2012, 11:07 AM

Despite a current mission that calls for preventing terrorism and enhancing security, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is proceeding with plans to cut funding in half—from $25.1 million to $12.5 million—for the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. The FFDO trains airline pilots in the use of handguns they are then allowed to carry into the cockpit for protection from intruders.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Congressional hearing last month she believes reinforced cockpit doors—installed after the 9/11 attacks—represent the last line of defense against an armed invader. Airline pilots who carry weapons refute that concept, calling their sidearm the last link in the defense chain. Gary Cason, chairman of the FFDO committee at Southwest Airlines, told AIN, “To say the hardened cockpit door is the last line of defense is just incorrect. Pilot duties may require that door be opened at any point. Eventually a terrorist is going to find a way to get that door open.  Can you imagine what’s going to happen if there is not an FFDO flying that aircraft?”

The entire 2013 FFDO budget is spent on training and administration of the current armed force and does not allow for the training of any new FFDOs next year.  The FFDO Budget has not seen an increase since its 2002 inception. A TSA spokesman said, “We do support this [FFDO] program as an additional layer of security. However, as we continue to face declining budgets, we have to prioritize security investments based on risk. In addition to armed pilots, there are also thousands of federal, state and local law enforcement officers who fly every day, as well as federal air marshals trained to use force on airplanes to protect passengers.”