Arming Pilots: Pros and Cons

Prior to 9/11 attacks, the airline industry took minor concern related to security of airports, plane personnel, passengers, and the nation at large. Tragic events of September 11th enforced redefinition of security strategy and measures. In the aftermath of the events, airline security regulations were subject to review and revision to strengthen protection against terrorism and other security threats. Along with the improved passenger and baggage screening procedures, there was a suggestion for arming pilots to make them ready for a terrorist attack. The corresponding act was signed already in November 2002 to compel a specific training program for airline pilots volunteering to carry guns. By signing the document, the Bush administration expected an active response of airline pilots committed to national security.

The act faced a substantial opposition in the public and the Congress because of many reasons. First, the use of gun on a plane in the sky is irrational, as a bullet causes a hole in the aircraft frame, which may grow and suck anybody out into the sky. Second, decompression caused by a bullet hole raises the risk of the plane crash and mass death of persons. However, those concerns were opposed by experienced aircraft engineers who rejected the ability of a single or a few bullets to cause plane depressurization (Skidmore, 2004). Indeed, there is an outflow valve in the airplane frame, which present a hole designated to maintain the required pressure in the pilot’s cabin. This outflow valve is a precaution against pressure changes serving as a cabin pressure controller. Therefore, from a technical perspective, the federal act on arming pilots did not challenge continuity and integrity of the plane.


However, the proven security of using guns against terrorist and other security violators on the plane did not encourage pilots to engage in the program. The amounts of pilots volunteering to carry guns did not meet expectations of the federal government. The prevailing explanation of the fact referred to an extension of pilot’s duties. Critics of the pilot arming initiative claimed that disarming hijackers or combating terrorists is not a part of the pilot’s job, but there should be other measures taken against hijacking. In turn, advocates point out the pilot’s responsibility for lives and well-being of passengers on board. In this vein, they should take all possible measures to prevent any security threat either voluntary or under enforced assignment to gun carrying.


This statement laid the ground for another aspect of the debate related to pilot arming. New security regulations adopted after 9/11 events obliged plane manufacturers and airline operators to control installation of cockpits to keep the pilot cabin locked throughout the flight. However, the door-based safety solution is challenged by the impossibility to ensure that the door will be closed for ever. The use of key or security codes for closing and opening cockpits weakens the potential of this security measure.


The prevailing reluctance of pilots to involve in the arming programs led to the suggestion for transferring the duty to flight marshals trained and qualified for using guns in response to security threats. However, this solution implies placing marshals on each flight, which immediately increase the demand in human and financial resources (Gun Owners of America, 2009). Besides, an armed marshal on the plane poses another security threat, as he or she may become a hijacker or terrorist target. Therefore, the issue of arming pilots within the airline security framework remains a sensitive subject in the U. S. government, airline industry, and the public. While advocates for the arming initiative urge to force pilots to serve the federal government, their opponents ascertain that using guns as a preventive measure in civic transportation is not acceptable.

References:


Gun Owners of America. (2009). Rebuttals to those who think pilots should not be armed. Retrieved from https://www.gunowners.org/fs0104.htm
Skidmore, J. (2004). Guns at 30,000ft: The pros and cons of sky marshals. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/729434/Guns-at-30000ft-the-pros-and-cons-of-sky-marshals.html

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