Yes, airline pilots who meet certain training and licensing requirements can carry a firearm while they fly. It is important to note that this only applies to pilots that take part in the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program and does not apply to all pilots.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the details surrounding pilots being able to carry guns while on duty. This includes the history behind the program, the rules and regulations, and well as many other specifics.
Background on Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) Program
In 2003, the Federal Air Marshal Service (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security) started a new program to allow people who meet certain training and licensing requirements to carry a firearm on an airplane during a flight.
The program was started in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Since those attacks involved taking over a commercial airliner and using it as a weapon, the goal of this program was to have a last line of defense from a hijacker or air-pirate taking over another plane.
The program is to pilots, navigators, or flight engineers to carry a gun on flights while on duty. It covers both cargo and passenger airplanes.
Requirements Training and Selection for the FFDO Program
Carrying a firearm can lead to an extremely dangerous situation for the passengers and crew of a flight. If something were to go wrong, it could lead to a plane becoming de-pressurized, a passenger getting shot, or even a plane crash. Due to these potential dangers, the participants have to meet very specific criteria to be considered.
The requirements to apply for the program include the following:
- Currently employed as pilot or flight engineer with a U.S. based airline
- Actively working (not furloughed)
- Hold a current FAA Medical Certificate
- Currently operating under FAA Part 121
- U.S. Citizen
- Able to pass an extensive background check
Assuming a pilot meets these requirements, they are eligible to apply. If they are accepted to the program they go through a training program at the Federal Air Marshal training facility in New Mexico. The specifics of the training program are classified as to not allow potential attackers have additional information. Although nobody can share the specifics of the training, we do know that it covers a variety of topics including:
- Constitutional law
- Physical fitness
- Behavioral observation
- Defensive tactics
- First aid
- Additional law enforcement training
In addition to all of the above, the training includes use of advanced simulators to assist the trainees.
Once trainees have completed the program, they are still subject to future testing and recertification. This includes a bi-annual training requirements and a recertification every 5 years. Again, this is not something that is taken lightly.
The Goal of the Program
Pilots who are part of the FFDO program and are allowed to carry guns on flights also have a very specific goal and jurisdiction.
They only are to use their weapon in a situation that includes terrorism or other serious life or death situations. This is not a program so pilots have a way to enforce laws on passengers or any other type of activity. It is supposed to be a last line of defense against a terrorist taking control of a plane.
The jurisdiction of the pilots in the program specifically covers protecting the flight deck. This program does not give pilots the right to carry a gun wherever they want outside of work or while flying. There are even regulations on where the gun can and can’t be kept as well as how the pilot must transport the gun to and from the airplane.
Who is NOT Eligible for the FFDO Program?
Due to this program allowing people to carry guns on airplanes (which is very dangerous) many pilots will not qualify to be in the program. Here is a list of factors that would keep you from being accepted:
- Non Part 121 Pilots (Charter plane pilots, flight instructions, corporate pilots, etc.)
- Anyone not able to pass the extensive background check
- Any pilot currently furloughed or not on active duty with a U.S. based airline
Related: Should I be an airline pilot?
Can Pilots Carry Guns on International Flights?
Yes, the regulation allows for pilots that are part of the FFDO program to carry their guns on international flights.
The participants in the FFDO program are strictly volunteers. They are not paid for their service and are doing it because they want to help and make flights safer for passengers and crew members.
Many of the pilots accepted into the program also have past military or law enforcement experience. This means you are more likely to have someone with past firearms experience and a willingness to serve the public in the program.
Although having a gun on an airplane can be dangerous, having someone that is armed and trained as a last line of defense against a hijacker or anyone else who would want to take over the plane is necessary and can lead to saving lives. The program to train and license pilots and other aviation professionals to be armed on flights was started as a response to the events of 9/11 and continues today.