U.S. Seeks to Increase Armed Pilots on International Flights

The U.S. government is seeking foreign countries’ support to allow pilots to carry guns on more overseas flights, FOXNews.com has confirmed.

The move is an attempt to expand a program that already lets thousands of airline personnel bring weapons into the cockpit.

Speakout! Packing Heat on Planes?

"Obviously there's a need for us to be on international flights," said Conan Bruce, spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, which runs the armed-pilots program. "We're leveraging the same process we [currently] have for an air marshal."

The idea for expansion of what's called the Federal Flight Deck Officer [FFDO] Program came about little over a year ago. One concern was that, in a post-Sept. 11 world, even though federal air marshals can fly armed on both international and domestic flights, FFDOs could only carry a weapon on domestic flights.

"A lot of people ask why is this such a a big deal, that these FFDOs are part of the air marshals service," Bruce said. "We both have the same goal in mind — we both want the plane to land safely."

Under the FFDO program, eligible flight crew members are authorized by the Transportation Security Administration to use firearms to defend against violence or an attempt to gain control of an aircraft. A flight crew member may be a pilot, flight engineer or navigator assigned to the flight.

Working with the State Department, the law enforcement agency brokers deals with the host country overseas to determine rules for carrying or not carrying weapons when U.S. carriers fly into that respective country.

This process is already in place for air marshals.

"We always try to make it clear that it's not up to us, it's up to the host country" to determine the rules, Bruce said. "We've started the process. We don't discuss what countries" they're in talks with, he added, because of "obvious security concerns."

FFDOs currently go through intense training before they get deputized as a law enforcement officer and can carry a weapon.

The government is also looking to set up regional training facilities so FFDOs can participate in refresher training courses every three to five years. Those courses include lessons such as how/when to use a gun, close-quarter combat, advanced shooting skills, judgmental shooting skills — when to shoot or not to shoot, as well as running through new procedures and policies.

A prototype for this refresher course is going on now in Atlantic City, but the government hopes to set up several regional centers to make it easier for FFDOs to attend.

"We're trying to meet in the middle, make it convenient enough so they can make it in and do it," Bruce said.

Armed pilots will also get badges along with their regular identification cards, signaling that they are authorized to carry the weapon. Bruce said the government has put a bid on a contract to produce these badges, and once that is approved, it will make the purchase.

"We give it [badge] to them ... because the public and law enforcement is going to be looking for a badge" when someone pulls out a weapon, Bruce said. "It also has a lot to do with bringing them [FFDOs] into the law enforcement culture."

The program's expansion was first reported in USA Today on Thursday. Click here to read the full story.

USA Today reported that the U.S. government may have a difficult time convincing some countries, as Sweden already has stood against U.S. attempts to have armed officers aboard flights to that country.

"There's a concern about arms and very sensitive equipment inside airplanes," Michael Mohr, homeland security liaison at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, told the newspaper.