The President's wants to end the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program (FFDO), also known as the armed pilots program. If Congress were to follow President Obama's recommendation contained in his $3.8 trillion FY2013 budget proposal, they would be making a huge mistake. This anti-terrorism program has been a success and a cost effective means to protect the cockpits of commercial aviation from 9-11 style terrorism.
The President's budget lists the FFDO program as one of the few "cuts" to federal spending. They have reduced the program from the $25 million they received this year to $12 million for FY2013. This massive cut to the program would destroy it. Consider this evidence that the Obama Administration would be more happy to rely on intrusive screening procedures being applied to toddlers, the elderly, and Senators, rather than pilots with guns to provide a last line of defense to aviation terrorism.
There is a saying in sports that the best referees are the ones you don't even notice. Not many Americans understand the breadth and effectiveness of the armed pilots program, because the program has been scandal free. Our nation has not experienced another 9-11 style terrorist attack thanks in no small part to armed pilots in the cockpits of commercial aircraft to stop terrorists intent on using planes as weapons of mass destruction.
According to the Obama Administration's budget proposal the goal of security at airports is to "mitigate the highest amount of risk at the lowest cost."
The voluntary FFDO program was created as a "last defense" layer of security at a time when comprehensive aviation screening and other physical security measures were not fully developed or deployed on a system-wide basis.
This claim is false. The Obama Administration is arguing that the FFDO program was to be a band aid until the federal government could set up screening to prevent another incident of aviation hijacking and terrorism. They are wrong, because a rational screening and security regime would include a last line of defense for pilots if other security measures fail.
Look at the history of the program if you need more evidence of the fallacy of this claim. On September 5, 2002, Senators Bob Smith (R-NH) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) teamed up on an amendment to the bill that created the Department of Homeland security. The amendment passed overwhelmingly and created the armed pilots program while increasing anti-terrorism training for flight attendants. These ideas were supposed to be permanent programs to provide a last line of defense to terrorism for flight attendants and pilots.
This program is large. The numbers of pilots in the program is considered secret, yet USA Today reported in 2008 that one in ten pilots were armed and cleared to carry a firearm while flying.
More than one in 10 of the nation's airline pilots are cleared to carry a handgun while flying, and the number will continue to grow, according to a Transportation Security Administration projection. The TSA, which has declined to disclose the number of armed pilots, revealed in a recent budget document that 10.8% of airline crewmembers were authorized to carry guns.
The fact that a large number of pilots are in the program today is evidence that it is working quietly to protect passengers and the public. A bipartisan majority in the House and Senate supported the creation of this program in both 2001 and 2002, yet both the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration have been hostile to this program. This idea by the Obama Administration will put Americans in harms way and it should be opposed.
According to the Obama Administration in the justification to cut FFDO the following:
Since 2001, however, there have been a number of enhancements to aviation security. TSA now conducts 100 percent screening of all passengers and their carryon items, has overseen installation of reinforced and locking cockpit doors on aircraft that operate in U.S. airspace, and has increased passenger and flight crew awareness to address security risks. Combined, these improvements have greatly lowered the chances of unauthorized cockpit access and represent a comprehensive and redundant risk-mitigation strategy that begins well before passengers board the aircraft.
For a President who proposes $3.8 trillion in spending next year, it is odd that he has targeted the one program in the TSA that is scandal free and providing a quiet deterrent to terrorists planning future attacks. If President Obama is successful in killing this program and winding it down, he will be to blame if a pilot is attacked in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft. This is a terrible idea and one hopes that Members of Congress do not follow the Obama Administration's recommendations on this very important national security issue.