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Obama administration's plan to cut back pilot firearm training raises security concerns

March 26, 2007: Airbus A380 pilot Jean-Michel Roy sits in the cockpit of the aircraft on the tarmac at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia.Reuters

Pilots packing heat may soon be a relic of the 9/11 aftermath, as the White House seeks to cut the $25 million budget in half for the federal flight deck officers training program known as the FFDO.

“The Obama administration has had an institutional hostility towards the concept of arming pilots, and especially the FFDO program, since the beginning,” Lt. Col. Al Aitken, a retired Marine and now with the Airline Security Consulting Group, claimed at a panel hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation on Friday.

The panel brought together advocates for the voluntary program that trains pilots, co-pilots and navigators to handle and carry handguns, including Minnesota Republican Rep. Chip Craavack. He said the program was cost effective – in fact, it was cheaper to arm a pilot than check a single suitcase.

“According to the estimates by the Airlines Pilots Association, FFDOs only cost $15 per flight segment. Let me say that again: To protect an aircraft and possibly the potential of thousands of people, the FFDO costs $15 per flight.

Capt. Tracy W. Price, a commercial airline pilot, warned that history might repeat itself -- he recalled that pilots carried handguns in the 80s and 90s, but the program was shuttered the summer before 9/11.

“We had a really bad cockpit breach, four of them. We lost 3,000 Americans. We learned that day that this is a horrible, horrible experiment," Price said.

Homeland security officials argue the department's multi-layered approach to airline security that relies on 100 percent passenger and cargo screening, intelligence data and reinforced cockpit doors is more effective. It focuses on high-risk attacks with the greatest consequence.

Testifying on the hill last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stood behind the proposed cuts.

“I think the reduction for the Federal Flight Deck Officer program is predicated on the fact that the program is not risk-based," she said. "We are moving, in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), to risk-based systems, and those are the ones that we're going to put money into.”

Asked for further comment, the Homeland Security Department directed Fox News to the 2013 budget that says the TSA will focus on programs that “mitigate the highest amount of risk at the lowest cost” -- and apparently arming pilots does not meet the threshold.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

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