Pistol-Packing Pilots Head to the Cockpit
By: Kate Scott
By: Kate Scott
(Cape Girardeau, MO)--Aviation history is in the making this weekend, thanks to the Homeland Security Act.
For the first time, commercial airline pilots could step into the cockpit carrying handguns. The Transportation Security Administration has been training the first class of 48 volunteer pilots at a federal facility in Georgia. Forty-six of them are expected to finish training on Saturday.
The pilots have been learning to use the guns to stop potential terrorists from hijacking an airplane in flight. That means learning not just how to fire a weapon, but how to use it in hand-to-hand combat, or take a gun away from someone else. And they have to know how to do it all within the confines of a cockpit, “while” flying an airplane. It’s training that politicians approved as a result of September eleventh. “Nine-eleven happened because the pilots died,” says Stephen Luckey, who’s with the Airlines Pilots Association. “Eight pilots were killed. They died because they didn't have the tools, the training, or the tactical knowledge to effectively meet that challenge.”
On Saturday, the 46 trained pilots will be sworn in as federal flight deck officers and then issued a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Both they and the guns could be in the cockpit as soon as Sunday.
So what kinds of added challenges will a pistol-packing pilot have to face? Heartland News talked to a Cape Girardeau charter pilot and flight instructor who also plans to fly big commercial jets in the future. Brent Hampton says he thinks guns in the cockpit could be a life-saving idea, but that doesn’t mean he thinks it will be easy on the pilots. Hampton doesn't fly big jets yet, but even in a small passenger plane, he has enough to watch and worry about. “During departures and arrivals, you've got a lot of things going on,” he tells Heartland News, as he gestures toward dozens of gages and switches in his cockpit. “So trying to fly the aircraft, and trying to take care of something going on behind you, could pose a lot of problems.”
Obviously the first batch of volunteer pilots believes it can be done. And federal officials predict thousands more volunteers will follow. Knowing the responsibility that could someday rest in his hands as a commercial jet pilot, Hampton says if given the chance, he could potentially be one of them. “If nobody else is on the airplane that can fly the aircraft, you're the passengers’ only chance of hope,” he tells Heartland News. “So you have to take care of you first. If you can incapacitate somebody, so you can continue flying the aircraft and get it on the ground, I think that's wonderful.”
It will cost about $6,200 for the federal government to train and equip each pilot who goes through the program.