WASHINGTON – Hundreds more commercial airline pilots will be trained to carry guns in the cockpit by Sept. 30 as the federal government committed $8 million to train them, the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday.
The first 44 pilots allowed to carry guns were sworn in as federal flight deck officers on Saturday after a week of classes, drills and testing at a federal law enforcement facility in Glynco, Ga.
"We see this as a positive step for hardening the target and preventing a repeat occurrence of the 9/11 tragedy," said Capt. Steve Luckey, a retired pilot who chairs the Air Line Pilots Association's national security committee.
The first class of pilots was nominated by their unions and selected by the TSA. Future trainees will apply online, said Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which runs the training.
Lawmakers last year overrode the Bush administration's objections to allowing pilots to carry weapons on the flight deck because of fears it would be dangerous and distracting. The airlines also opposed weapons on the flight deck for the same reasons.
Pilots were concerned the Bush administration would try to limit the program because of its earlier objections. Last week in Georgia they said they were happy with the initial training, which will be modified as the TSA learns more about what works and what doesn't.
"We're very pleased with what's going on down here," Luckey said last week.
The next class is scheduled for midsummer, though the TSA doesn't know yet how large it will be. According to one estimate, about a third of the 100,000 pilots in the United States will volunteer to carry guns and complete the training in the next five years.
Some pilots are likely to be trained at a federal law enforcement training center in Artesia, N.M., as well as the facility in Georgia.
Training a single pilot costs $6,200, but there are likely to be new expenses for equipment and training aids, said Johnson. The course itself is unlikely to change much, he said.
The agency determined that it could spend $8 million on the program between now and Sept. 30 after analyzing the budget approved by Congress in January, Johnson said. TSA asked for $25 million to train pilots next year.
Airlines learned on Sunday if any of their pilots were sworn in to carry weapons. The pilots trained on their own time, and didn't have to tell their employer because failing could have adversely affected their jobs. Four pilots didn't complete the course for undisclosed reasons.
Pilots could fail to graduate from the course for reasons such as an inability to finish the rigorous training or failing psychological tests that indicate whether he or she would be able to kill another person.