Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Federal Flight Deck Officer Program Improvements

While it persistently exceeds its constitutional authority by bailing out businesses and individuals who are failures and by excessively intruding into free enterprise, the federal government is falling short in one of its most important roles -- that of protecting the people from attack.

The Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program is an essential part of today's airline security system. Pilots volunteer to obtain training and designation as federal officers -- on their own time and at their own expense -- so they can carry a gun on the aircraft they fly thereby protecting the aircraft from hijacking.

However, the FFDO program is unnecessarily crippled due to various factors including an inadequate budget, flawed policies, and the failure of at least one department of the federal government to do its job.

Armed airline pilots are the most cost-effective aviation counter-terrorism effort, but the FFDO program is constrained from achieving its full potential without legislation addressing these issues:
Budget Inadequacy - Despite a 100-fold growth of the program over the first year’s operation, the FFDO budget remains at the same $22 million it was seven years ago! Because of inadequate funding, the TSA is turning away pilots who want to volunteer in the fight against terrorism. It costs only $15 per flight to have a trained FFDO aboard compared with $3300 for other law enforcement officers.
Standard Law Enforcement Weapons Carriage Protocol - The thousands of Federal Flight Deck Officers that are already on international and domestic flights can meet a call by the president for more federal officers on flights by simply changing their carriage protocol. Currently, FFDOs are required to have their weapons locked whenever outside of the cockpit. This locking requirement, cited by a DHS Inspector General report as being an unsafe practice, prevents FFDOs from serving as counter-terrorism force multipliers when travelling in the cabin or through airport terminals. A DHS working group has determined that a mere 8-12 hour training period would provide any additional instruction needed.
International Flight Restrictions - The flights that pose the greatest aviation terrorism threat are those on international routes. When a pilot has just one international segment on a 5-day trip, he generally finds it impractical to carry his duty firearm for the entire trip because of the international restriction on that one segment. That leaves every flight he operates unprotected because of the current international restrictions. While the law establishing the FFDO program specifically authorizes FFDOs to perform their mission on international flights, the State Department has failed to negotiate pertinent agreements with any foreign nation.

Congress and the Whitehouse must ensure these problems are resolved immediately.

In a letter to Congress, the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) has also addressed some of the long-standing deficiencies in the FFDO program. Congress and the Whitehouse must take the necessary actions to remedy these deficiencies immediately.

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