Armed pilots say security needs strengthening



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Posted on September 12, 2011 at 10:58 PM

DALLAS - Ten years after the attacks on 9/11, the Federal Flight Deck Officers Association said gaps remain in aviation security and it's about to begin urging Congress again to correct them.

"We have been the quiet professionals," said Marc Flagg, president, FFDOA. "But now it's time to speak up and we need to fix this program, and we need Congress to act."

Much of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program remains shrouded in secrecy. Flagg said the types of weapons they carry and even the number of armed pilots cannot be made public, because that remains sensitive security information. Still, according to the FFDOA president, they're the fourth largest law enforcement organization in the country after the FBI.

Hundreds of airline pilots from every major carrier, including Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Fort Worth-based American Airlines, have voluntarily taken the training from Federal Air Marshals after Congress enacted the FFDO program in 2002.

There have never been enough Federal Air Marshals to protect every airliner, plus they're more expensive for taxpayers than Federal Flight Deck Officers.

"These men and women provide four times the coverage of the Federal Air Marshals at 1/25th of the cost," Flagg said.

Flagg is a cargo pilot who helped push the bill through Capitol Hill. His parents were passengers on American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists flew it into the Pentagon.

Ten years later, Flagg said the TSA remains more reactive than proactive.

Flagg wants secondary barriers, which are wire fences, to protect cockpits so pilots can step out to the lavatory.

United Airlines continues to be the only carrier to install these protective gates to increase protection for the cockpit.

Flagg said his organization is also about to restart efforts in Congress to urge lawmakers to let pilots carry concealed weapons outside the cockpit.

But, Flagg said, Congress needs to invest more money.

"We had the original operation budget of about $25 million for the first year in 2003," Flagg said. "We've grown 100-fold and that budget has not increased."

A backlog of pilots who want training continues to grow, Flagg said. That's why he worries.

A decade after 9/11, security still isn't as strong as it could be and pilots who want to protect their plane and passengers await Congress to make the next move.