Do Pilots Carry Guns?

In the world of aviation the topic of airplane hijacking and airport emergencies can be fairly sensitive, especially since 2001 – but if you want to know if and why pilots carry guns, this ground must be covered.

Do Pilots Carry Guns?

Although this question isn’t just for American pilots, while gun laws are obviously different in the United States, can other pilots carry guns too?

When an American pilot is traveling internationally do the American gun laws still apply to him? What about other airport operatives, are they allowed to carry arms for the same reason?

In this guide we are going to explore if pilots can carry guns, and if so, why? Read on to learn more about the world of aviation and arms.

Can A Pilot Carry A Gun?

Well, there is no short answer to this, it can depend on the stipulations of the question as well as other situations that need going over.

The answer to the question is that a pilot can carry a gun, but this doesn’t mean all pilots carry guns.

To cover another situation, a pilot cannot bring a personal firearm onto an airplane unless they are given authorization to do so, which is pretty rare.

However, since 2001, most flights within the US will often, but not always, have a Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) onboard who is licensed to carry a firearm by the Federal Government.

What Is A Federal Flight Deck Officer?

An FFDO is essentially a part of the flight crew who has been trained to be a Federal Flight Deck Officer and can thus carry a concealed firearm.

This is not a cop for the airplane, rather, it is a member of the flight crew who has been entrusted to covertly protect the airplane with a firearm, specifically in the cases of terrorism or domestic terrorism.

Training as well as the true operation of these FFDOs remain fairly covert and are classified like an FBI agent. An FFDO is not always known on the flight and does not overtly announce themselves as a FFDO.

The reasoning behind this is that an FFDO cannot be targeted in a terrorist situation, as well as other domestic incidents where they may also be targeted.

Being unknown as an FFDO would also help their observation of the flight deck to be uninhibited and easier.

The exact number of FFDOs in the country, as well as how they are distributed per airline, is also kept classified as well as the types of firearms they use.

After graduating from the training they still must attend ‘training’ every six months and after five years there is a two-day refresher on the course – so the title isn’t handed out for free.

On the same note, an FFDO does not earn extra money for their role or training.

Who Can Become An FFDO?

The Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, part of the larger Homeland Security Act of 2002 passed in reaction to the events of 9/11, decreed that only airline pilots and flight engineers could become an FFDO. 

Originally, preference was given to pilots who had previous government arms training such as veterans or former police officers, etc.

Yet, in 2003, Bush passed a piece of legislation that allowed cargo pilots and certain other flight crew members to be considered eligible for FFDO training.

In any case, the applicant must have US citizenship, pass extensive background checks, be in an active role in an airline, and also produce a valid FAA medical certificate.

What Jurisdiction Does An FFDO Have?

Obviously, as a pilot you are constantly going to different countries and states, in both cases there can be serious changes in terms of gun laws and legality.

A question of jurisdiction is raised in these situations about how a firearm would be used while in the air, docked at an international or interstate airport, and when in another airport.

The airplane technically remains part of US airspace and is technically still subject to US law. Moreover, the FFDO is still licensed to carry a firearm by the FAA generally.

However, an FFDO is trained to protect the aircraft and people on board the aircraft, so using the gun outside the aircraft, unless for the protection of the people on board, would not be condoned.

How Often Is An FFDO Used?

Do Pilots Carry Guns?

Seemingly, there are fairly low reports of FFDOs being utilized in terrorist developments since 2001. Often the reported cases are to do with FFDO agents making mistakes with their firearms. 

The first hijacking of an airplane was in 1931 in Peru where a pilot had to defend his aircraft from revolutionaries on the ground, which resulted in a 10-day standoff.

Since this date there has never been any cases of an actual airline pilot defending their aircraft with a gun.

The efficiency of an FFDO is up for debate, the permission to carry a gun is questioned as something that could protect people on an airplane.

In real airline hijacks a gun can potentially escalate a situation too greatly or just not be of much use. 

It seems wrong to assume that FFDO agents are only trained in firearm combat, while the training is covert it is hard to really know, but anti-terrorist measures are surely taught too.

What is meant by this is that anti-terrorist techniques that are non-violent could be more effective but may also be taught which is why guns are rarely used.

In 2008 a US Airways FFDO’s gun went off on a flight from Denver to Charlotte. No one was injured, and the aircraft landed safely, but the bullet tore through the cockpit and exterior of the plane.

This demonstrates the danger of a gun onboard a flight

Final Thoughts

FFDO agents and the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act will unfortunately and inevitably always be tied up with the events of 9/11 as well as the Bush administration.

Could this suggest that the APATA was a reactive piece of legislation? We will let you be the judge.

The Homeland Security Act sought to bring more peace to America and ultimately extend a right to bear arms to different parts of the federal states in order to help US citizens protect themselves in the even of a terrorist attack.

Could an FFDO and their relevant training have stopped 9/11 or a similar terror attack?

It’s hard to give an accurate or informed answer to this but many Americans, including pilots and other airline staff, feel they have a right to bear arms in this situation.

So, yes, airline Pilots can carry a firearm. This doesn’t mean all pilots have firearms, only those who are FFDO agents.

In the same vein, other airline staff can also be FFDOs. FFDOs are classified, so you cannot overtly tell who is or is not an FFDO.

To this day an FFDO has not been required or used in a terrorist situation since their instatement by Bush back in 2001-3.

Whether an FFDO agent could prevent a terrorist attack is up for debate, but for many Americans it forms part of their right to bear arms. 

Most reported FFDO incidents are mainly when an FFDO has made a mistake, until their true nature is declassified by the government their true purpose and effectiveness will also remain hidden.

Jacob Stern
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