Air Transport World

Flaps? Check. Weapons check. Lawyers? Check. The debate over arming pilots has been settled in the affirmative, but some legal issues remain.(Security)

Arming US commercial airline pilots with lethal weapons may be legal now, but answers to questions posed by airlines some time ago on safety, liability and logistics have yet to be answered satisfactorily, carriers say privately. Nor has it been determined if this voluntary program to train pilots to carry guns on domestic flights ever will extend beyond US borders, or whether the nonlethal approach ever will be taken seriously by the Transportation Security Administration.

Most US Majors no longer want to talk about the issue publicly, referring calls to the Air Transport Assn., whose COO, John Meenan, in a statement took the position that ATA's past opposition to the program is water under the bridge: "Prior to enactment of the law authorizing firearms in the cockpit, ATA and a number of the airlines expressed their views on the subject in the course of public debate. Once the decision was reached, the law enacted and the program became operational, however, the industry moved to assist TSA in its development with advice and comments as appropriate." The five largest US carriers declined to be interviewed by ATW but indicated the issue of pilots with guns remains a serious one for them.

One newer ATA member that has found its public voice opposing lethal weapons in the cockpit is JetBlue. Founder and CEO David Neeleman calls the program providing weapons training for pilots "one of the stupidest ideas that has ever happened, particularly now that we have fortified cockpit doors. Plus we have 150 deputies [passengers] on every flight to take care of trouble." Adding another security-related element are the cameras in the cabins of JetBlue's entire fleet of A320s that are monitored by pilots.

However, some Washington-based aviation lawyers have opposing views on the subject. Josh Romanov, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop, which represents several airlines, declares: "Arming pilots is the very necessary final line of defense because we never want to see an airliner used as a missile. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.