Federal Officials Deny Report That Obama Seeks to End Pilot Gun Program

Federal officials are denying a report that the Obama administration is seeking to end a program that allows trained airline pilots to carry guns.

In an editorial published Tuesday in The Washington Times, the newspaper wrote that "President Obama is quietly ending the federal firearms program, risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology."

Sterling Payne, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, denied the report and said the program that oversees a reported 12,000 federal flight deck officers (FFDO) is actually expanding.

"It's inaccurate, this program continues to grow," Payne told FOXNews.com of the editorial. "TSA continues to recruit and put new FFDOs on planes, and we continue to train them and do recurring training."

Payne said TSA officials have recently opened a training center for FFDOs in Atlantic City, N.J., with others planned to open in Texas and other states. She declined, citing security concerns, to say how many federal flight deck officers are authorized by the agency, citing security concerns.

"We have thousands of FFDOs right now and we add thousands each year," Payne said.
Representatives from The Washington Times did not return a request for comment. A White House spokesman declined to speak on the matter, saying it was being handled by TSA officials

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Airlines Pilots Association International -- the world's largest airline pilot union, representing nearly 52,250 pilots in the U.S. and Canada -- said the Times editorial "couldn't be further from the truth."

"ALPA representatives met with TSA executives this afternoon and were told in no uncertain terms that TSA embraces the FFDO program, that there are no plans to reduce or restrict its growth, and that in fact the agency fully intends to grow and expand the program," the statement read. "Government representatives acknowledged that the program needs additional funding to achieve these goals, and that they are actively seeking same."

TSA officials are currently training up to 1,500 pilots annually for the program, which was instituted after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to ALPA's statement.

"The size of the FFDO cadre has grown so large that additional resources are needed to provide greater structure and oversight to this important program, which TSA referred to [Tuesday] as 'an important layer of defense.'"

According to TSA's Web site, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks "demonstrated the need for a multi-layered approach to securing commercial airlines -- and in particular the cockpit -- from terrorist and criminal assault."