U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY2003-08-28 22:40:59

TSA Moves "Full Speed Ahead" Ahead With Plan to Arm Pilots

Some pilots are "off base" in their criticisms and assessment of the six-month old program to turn commercial airline pilots into federal law enforcement officers, according to Adm. James M. Loy, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency responsible for the training.

Loy and others offered support for the program, which critics have said is not moving fast enough.

The program is going "full speed ahead" with hundreds of pilots already trained or scheduled for classes, Loy said today, noting TSA graduated its first class of pilots in April and has been conducting weekly classes since mid-July. "We are training as many pilots as possible and will continue to graduate new federal flight deck officers from the program every weekend," Loy said.

Loy said TSA is committed to working with pilots to ensure development of the best program possible for protecting travelers from terrorists, but said changes to training and security procedures should only be made with the safety of the flying public in mind. "The program will continue to develop as we all gain more experience with this mission," Loy said.

"All of us, including TSA, are working hard to make this program a success for the American people," said Capt. Steve Luckey, Chairman of the National Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association. "But we should be clear that the success of this new layer of security will depend on the quality of the pilots being trained, not on the number of pilots who could carry guns," he said.

Rafi Ron, a world-leading expert on aviation security, said the program was moving at the right pace. "Experience has shown that security measures are only effective when you give personnel the right kind of training and expertise. Terrorists are smart; we need to be even smarter," he said. "The Transportation Security Administration - in taking the time to rigorously train each Federal Flight Deck Officer before arming them to defend the cockpit - has taken this lesson to heart."

Loy said those pilots opposed to the TSA's approach continue to "misrepresent TSA's intentions."

"Most travelers support the arming of pilots, but they also expect that it be done right," Loy said. "That means making certain that pilots who volunteer are capable of handling the law enforcement responsibilities and weapons given to them by the federal government." Currently, pilots must pass a psychological and background evaluation before being scheduled for training, a process similar to that done for all other candidates seeking positions as federal law enforcement officers.

"Security experience and common sense dictate that before you train and equip someone to use lethal force in defense of the cockpit, you want to make sure they are up for it," said Ron.

Another of the critics' allegations was a claim that TSA sought to discourage pilots from signing up by moving training from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA to its sister campus in Artesia, NM. Although training center managers directed the move due to overcrowded conditions at the Georgia facility, TSA, the lead pilot groups and some elected officials say it's the right decision.

"The Artesia flight training center has proven to be a valuable asset in our quest to make the skies safer," U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) said. "Moving the Federal Flight Deck Officer Training program to Artesia will ensure that training occurs in a state of the art facility, complete with realistic airframes and captain's chairs. This is a good move for Artesia and a good move for passenger safety."

Union leaders toured the Artesia site last week and have given their support for the facility, according to Luckey, who said his group "enthusiastically endorsed" the new training location as a better training environment.

"The Artesia site offers our students the chance to train on real planes, and to shoot their service weapons in more realistic environments," Loy said.

"TSA will continue to do its job of aggressively training pilots and pledges to work to iron out any differences along the way," he said.

For more information contact:
Transportation Security Administration
Mail Stop: TSA-6
400 7th St. Sw
Washington
D.C. 20590
United States Of America



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