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Pilots Say U.S. Impedes Efforts to Tote Guns in Cockpits

They don't like taking a psychological test the TSA deems necessary for safety.

March 14, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Commercial pilots say only a few of their colleagues are signing up to carry guns in the cockpit because the Bush administration has made it harder than necessary to participate.

The Transportation Security Administration initially opposed the program, then reluctantly endorsed it when it was clear Congress was behind it.

The Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a group formed by pilots to lobby for guns in the cockpit, says the TSA's stance has led the agency to impose unnecessary standards, chiefly a 14-page psychological evaluation.

Dean Roberts, a member of the alliance and a former special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, questioned the need for the test, noting psychological and physical ability evaluations with Federal Aviation Administration doctors are performed every six months for captains and once a year for first officers.

"I never filled out a 14-page application to be a DEA agent," Roberts said. "We have guys who've flown the space shuttle, and that's not good enough for TSA."

TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the testing is necessary to ensure safety.

"It's a very demanding assignment that requires an individual to make a life-or-death decision and then turn around and fly an airplane," Hatfield said.

Four percent of the pilots failed the test because they were not considered suitable, he said. Reasons for disqualification include a history of disobeying safety regulations, domestic violence and alcoholism.

When Congress was considering whether to allow guns in the cockpit, the Airline Pilots Security Alliance conducted polls and estimated that about half the 115,000 commercial pilots would participate. But after 16 months, they estimate only 1,500 pilots have been certified.

Rob Sproc, alliance vice president, said that many more pilots would carry guns if the government made it easier for them to do so.

Hatfield said he believes the alliance inflated the number of pilots interested in carrying guns. He said the TSA fully supports the program and believes armed pilots add another level of security to an aviation system that has undergone major safety enhancements since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We're so supportive of this program we doubled the capacity of the classes beginning in January," Hatfield said. The TSA has the capacity to train 100 pilots a week, he said.

Sproc said as many as 60,000 would be enrolled if it was a no-nonsense program.

Pilots must volunteer, take the psychological test and complete a weeklong firearms training program run by the government to be able to keep a gun in the cockpit. The pilot would be issued a gun by the government and would have to carry it in a lockbox whenever he left the cockpit.

The TSA requires that training be held in Artesia, N.M. Pilots say the government could certify private weapons-training facilities around the country to make it easier for pilots.

Hatfield said the Artesia site, which has aircraft in which pilots can practice, is the premier place to train. He said the TSA is looking into having a weekly charter flight to Dallas to make it easier for pilots to get to Artesia.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said they think the TSA is making it harder than necessary for pilots to carry guns. They plan to introduce a bill requiring the TSA to immediately train all pilots who are active members of the National Guard or military reserve or law enforcement officers who volunteer for the program.

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