Several pilot groups demanding the federal government step up Federal Flight Deck Officer training so more crews can fly armed are planning demonstrations at airports around the nation to make their point.

(Boeing photo, used with permission)

The groups, led by the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, an organization formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to push for arming pilots, say the government is taking too long to train adequate numbers of air crews to be a deterrent against future hijackings.

“It’s been almost two years since the attacks … and we only have less than 150 pilots approved to carry a firearm,” said Capt. Bob Lambert, president of APSA and a former fighter pilot.

“While the Department of Homeland Security warns that al-Qaida has threatened to use ‘commercial aviation here in the United States and abroad to further their cause,’ their colleagues at [the Transportation Security Administration] are preventing the fastest and most effective deterrent, which is to arm pilots in the cockpit as a last line of defense against an attack,” he said.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Congress last fall approved legislation allowing pilots who receive federal training to carry guns in commercial airliner cockpits.

However, APSA has said, getting pilots through training has been painstakingly slow.

According to the pilots’ groups, Federal Flight Deck Officer, or FFDO, training is being conducted at only one site, churning out an average of only 50 pilots per week. At that rate, say the groups, only 2,600 pilots a year will be trained. That means it would take nearly 15 years to train the estimated 40,000 pilots interested in the program. In all, APSA says, there are 120,000 commercial pilots in the nation.

“The Transportation Security Administration has done a terrible job of arming pilots to date,” APSA spokesman Brian Darling said last month. “… Although training is being conducted currently, there needs to be a radical acceleration of the armed-pilots program to deter al-Qaida from targeting commercial aircraft for Sept. 11-style hijackings.”

In an effort to bring attention to the problem, APSA – along with the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, the Allied Pilots Association and other individual pilots – plan press conferences at a number of airports around the country later this month “to urge President Bush and his departments of Transportation and Homeland Security to accelerate” training programs.

“The TSA has forced the FFDO program to conform to their own bureaucratic image of a weak, perfunctory program in reluctant compliance with a law they did not like in the first place,” said Capt. Denny Breslin, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. “Further, the TSA has made the program so onerous for pilots with ludicrous levels of background and psychological testing that it is obvious they are trying to intentionally discourage participation.”

According to TSA information, to qualify for the program pilots must “successfully complete all selection assessments including any specified cognitive psychological medical or physical ability requirements; be determined to meet all established standards by TSA;” and “be available to attend the training program in its entirety on your own time and at your own expense.”

TSA covers the actual cost of training, but pilots are expected to pay for their own accommodations and lodging for the week-long course. Once certified, FFDO “deputation” lasts for five years, unless it is revoked by the government. Airlines do not have “veto” power over their pilots who seek training, TSA said.

Lambert called the current pace of training “unacceptable.”

“President Bush has it in his power tomorrow to invoke an executive order to allow volunteer pilots to carry lethal weapons to defend the cockpits of our nation’s airliners with expedited training,” he said. “We call on President Bush to end the delay and take steps to make our skies safe again.”

The pilot groups plan news conferences at Miami International Airport; Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles International Airport; O’Hare International Airport in Chicago; Logan International Airport in Boston; and Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport.

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