No guns for pilots

Americans are on edge after recent threats to national security; and in times like these, only highly skilled law enforcement should be carrying guns. But instead of using caution, the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest pilots union, is pushing to arm pilots with handguns, and the Federal Aviation Administration and FBI are listening.

Handling and utilizing firearms is dangerous even for trained professionals. Expecting pilots to handle weapons with caution and intelligence is foolish, especially when they are increasingly fearful of potentially dangerous passengers. On a recent flight, a man was stripped down, sprayed and searched when passengers mistook confetti sprinkled from a greeting card for anthrax. Adding guns to an already chaotic situation will exponentially increase the danger to all.

ALPA officials argue that intense training and education can adequately prepare pilots for the risks involved in carrying weapons. However, they fail to realize that no amount of training or shooting at targets in an open range can prepare pilots for the intensity and quick decision making required to fire a weapon at an altitude of 31,000 feet. A logical and much safer option is to increase the amount of air marshals on flights. These people present safety for pilots and passengers and have extensive experience with weapons and dealing with hostile situations.

Pilots argue that there are not enough marshals for every flight, but the FAA claims there are “extraordinary numbers” of interested officers being trained daily, with new groups in the system every three days. They would be able to diffuse a potential terrorist situation in a far better manner than people trained to fly planes who also happen to have gun licenses and loaded weapons.

At a time when many are skittish about the safety of air travel, passengers will not be reassured by allowing paranoid pilots to have loaded weapons onboard. If a shot was fired in the cabin, it would need amazing accuracy; a wayward bullet piercing a passenger window could cause cabin pressure to decompress, drawing all oxygen out of the plane. Passengers could breathe through masks for 10 to 15 minutes, but with the pilots involved in a gunfight, recovering the plane in an adequate amount of time is unlikely. Additionally, there is the risk that a passenger would be hit, or even taken hostage by the attacker. A pilot, regardless of training, would not be able to handle such a delicate situation while maintaining control of the plane.

The risks of having loaded weapons in the cockpit supercede the possible benefits. In a flight without incident, weapons in the cabin could detonate creating a serious situation on a safe flight. If guns are to be allowed on planes at all, they should be in the hands of trained professionals whose sole responsibility is maintaining safety.