Armed pilots are the first line of deterrence and the last line of defense to a 9-11 style terrorist attack.
That was the motto my former boss, Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), came up with to promote the idea that our nation needed commercial airline pilots to be armed against terrorism back in the fall of 2001.
Sen. Smith teamed up with Sen. Barbara Boxer in a bipartisan effort to protect the cockpit from another 9-11 style attack. On the House side, Reps. John Mica (R-FL) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) worked together to get armed pilots legislation through the House.
There are quite a few Senators and Representatives still in Congress who deserve praise for taking up that fight including Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John Thune (R-SD), Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Joe Barton (R-TX).
The bill was signed into law, yet it was not something embraced by the Bush Administration.
President George W. Bush???s handpicked Administrator of the TSA, John Magaw declared, ???I will not allow pilots to be armed??? before he killed the first incarnation of the program. The program was eventually created as an amendment to the bill that created the Department of Homeland Security in December of 2002.
President Barack Obama continued the tradition of stonewalling armed pilots by attempting to zero fund the program in his FY2013 budget. Congress prevailed with large bipartisan majorities against the wishes of both Presidents Bush and Obama.
This is program is supported by both parties, yet it has been an annoyance to bureaucrats at the Department of Homeland Security. They favor bureaucracy-building programs by maintaining an army of TSA agents and expensive scanners. They also don???t like the idea that the armed commercial airline pilots are deputized instead of them being employees of the federal government. Because the federal government does not have complete control over the program and the pilots, they don???t like it.
The program, formally known as the Federal Flight Deck Officers Program (FFDO), has worked and is popular with pilots and the flying public since it was created in 2002.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has taken up the cause of improving airline safety and introduced a bill titled the ???Arming All Pilots Act of 2015.??? This bill will improve a program in dire need legislative changes.
Sen. Paul said about his bill ???the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program is an important element in our continued efforts to ensure the safety of airline passengers, and my bill will make it possible for more pilots to get trained and protect flyers. Pilots regularly tell me they???ve experienced problems with the availability of training under the current program; my bill addresses those concerns and ensures that participants in the program have access to licenses and the critical training they need.???
One problem with the program is that the Obama Administration has created roadblocks that make it hard to stay in the program.
The bill expands the numbers of facilities that can be used for initial training of pilots and mandatory retraining. Right now, there is only one remote training facility for initial FFDO training.
The mandatory time period of initial training and recurrent training is capped so that the Obama Administration can???t discourage participation in the program by making the training unworkable. Pilots have a very busy schedule and new expanded training requirements will lead to fewer pilots in the program.
Also, the bill allows private gun ranges for some training to make it easier for the pilots to get recertified on the FFDOs government issued firearm.
The bill also makes some changes to the method that a pilot can carry the firearm. This change allows pilots to carry on their person to make sure they never lose control of the firearm.
Furthermore, some technical corrections are added to make sure that the Obama Administration can???t use regulations to make it so inconvenient for participation that the program withers away.
Armed pilots, FFDOs, are providing an important service to this country. They keep their status secret from the American public, so the bad guys can???t figure out who is deputized.
Sen. Paul???s fight to improve this program will be welcomed news to pilots in the program. This is an excellent piece of legislation and one of the few programs in the wake of 9-11 that has kept us safe.
This program is based on a core conservative idea that people are best served protecting themselves. Evil terrorists on 9-11 hijacked planes and targeted pilots as a means to use those aircraft as weapons of mass destruction. If Sen. Rand Pauls??? bill passes, the possibility of another 9-11 style attack happening again will be greatly diminished.
Brian Darling served as Sr. Communications Director and Counsel for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) from 2012-15. Before his tenure with Sen. Paul, Darling served in three different capacities with The Heritage Foundation. Follow him @BrianHDarling on Twitter.