Friday, March 28, 2008

Plausible Explanation

After trying so hard to make a post composed entirely of uninformed speculation yesterday, I succumbed to temptation and did some research. Ignorance was bliss. The process is worse than I imagined, but far more pilots than I guessed subject themselves to it. Using information from sources such as the TSA itself and airline pilot association websites I found a lot more specific information than my speculations covered, and thus evidence that the TSA and FFDOs themselves are not trying to propagate security through obscurity. Although I'm not really impressed with the guy on a gun site who was bragging about his wife's activities as a FFDO. It's now looking like TSA procedures lined up the circumstances for this accident to happen.

Specifically, FFDO pilots are given a week of excellent training and then issued and required to use this holster. They leave the weapon loaded during transport, but any time that the pilots are not locked behind the cockpit door, it is secured with a digital padlock. Web videos show that attempting to apply the padlock to a holstered gun that had been subjected to a little bit of turbulence could cause an accidental discharge, and that the padlock itself can be opened with a paperclip in about the time it would take to dial in the combination. Loaded and trigger locked is also a weird way to transport a gun. I wonder if that's what they do if they overnight in Canada. Here you have to have a handgun unloaded, trigger-locked and in an opaque lockbox for transport, and there is not an exception for foreign law enforcement personnel.

I'm not sure what any of this proves, but there is evidence that the government agencies involved are deliberately making things difficult for the pilots involved. Now that I have found out what is involved in the application procedure, I wouldn't apply under the current rules. Pilots think going once or twice a year to a medical doctor and asking them to find some reason for you not to fly is bad. Imagine having to go to a psychologist who is looking for reasons to consider you irresponsible. (Yes, the process includes threats of reporting anything they find back to the FAA and/or your employer). For example, they asked applicants, "Would you ever want to be a fighter jet pilot?" and "Do you think you could take a human life?" What are the pilots who have seen military combat, or the ones who still fly fighter jets in the reserves, going to answer? "You want to see pictures?"

So um, yeah, keep on not letting the bad guys into the cockpit.


Frank Ch. Eigler said...

In your searches, did you come across a statement about whether it's policy to carry the handguns with a round chambered (as opposed to merely loaded with a magazine)?

nec Timide said...

Thank you for loosing your blissful ignorance and finding these things for us. Food for thought.

I'm still wondering why the weapon had a round chambered and the safety off (as the video implies is policy). All other requirements notwithstanding, if the program required me to carry a weapon in that state, even padlocked, I would withdraw. A weapon in that state is too dangerous unless you need it to defend against an immediate threat.

If not policy, how did this weapon get to that state?

Anonymous said...

I must say I view this whole discussion in a completely different light, being from Europe. This whole mentality regarding firearms - discussing the tiny details and not the big picture - seems very foreign. Naturally there's plenty of firearms across the pond as well, but I'm betting the ratio guns:population is significantly smaller. And most of us just don't think of guns the same way. The very idea of a pilot carrying a gun is almost unfathomeable to me. But possible terrorists will of course not be as foreign to carrying guns/weapons as I. I'm just scared of the ever-downward-spiralling reasoning this creates. Well if A carries a gun, naturally B should be carrying one as well. And if B is carrying one, then should C, which probably means D needs one... Suddenly everyone has a gun, and the playing field is levelled out again. I wouldn't be sorry to see each and every gun melted down Terminator-style. Hunters are welcome to use a bow and arrow, or why not their brains for once.

This is such a sad development. I'm truly unhappy to see things headed in this direction.

Anonymous said...

The most absurd thing about FFDO rules (allegedly) is that the gun must be locked up whenever the cockpit door is opened. To spell it out for everyone, FFDO regulations require that the gun be disabled at precisely the moment the cockpit is at greatest risk for intrusion.

The FFDO program is there to make the ignorant public feel safer and to make it easier for pilots to get through the TSA screening gauntlet. It's at best useless as a security tool. At worst, the FFDO program might make passengers and pilots less safe because of the risk of pilots accidentally shooting themselves or accidentally shooting out critical aircraft systems.

As Schneier would say, 'security theater.'

Anonymous said...

We can argue tactics forevern. To corrupt a good quote, we amateurs debate tactics, the pro's (should) debate systems".
Our Swedish fellow reader and aviatrix has a good seperate persepctive. Our hostess has done her job.
Air marshals, who are trained and screened and indocrtinated and "heeled" are the answer, and their perceived potential presence is a strong deterrent as well as offering a reasoned, graduated response to inflight troubles. There are also screening processes we are not as a matter of rote made aware of occuring between the metal detector and the boarding gate.
Then, I am, reminded of the two Federal marshalss a fews years back who left their backup weapons uder the front seat of their car to avoid the security nuisance when going into the jail to get a prisoner, then having him hold them at gunpoint from the backseat, drive him out to nowhere, uncuff him...then left them unharmed but humiliated to walk back in their $800 suits in the swamp. No one's perfect, especially omnipotent Federal agents.

Anonymous said...

I wish I read this post before I left a comment on the previous post. I know that it sounds kind of cowboy, but this may wind up demonstrating that the best firearm safety device is the human brain coupled with the user's trigger finger.

I carry a pistol with a round in the chamber virtually 100% of the time I'm outside of my house. There are four basic weapon safety rules, if you follow the first, you'll always be safe: "Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire."

Imagine that, something that simple would prevent every single negligent discharge. Consider this: Maybe having a round chambered isn't dangerous. Maybe the danger lies in complacent and unnecessary handling of a firearm in an enclosed space. Again, just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

FYI: here's an article on this from the Moonie Times.

(No, I don't read the Moonie Times. It was linked from Fark.)

Anonymous said...

Okay, well, since an open search was able to come across the holster that FFDOs are required to use, I can comment on it. When I was learning to handle guns I learned to never put a finger near the trigger unless ready to fire. FFDOs are required to thread a padlock through the trigger, which I've never been comfortable with. This is one of the reasons I'm not an FFDO despite being quite comfortable with guns. I've never thought that an FFDO hurt the overall safety of a flight, and during an actual attempted takeover of the cockpit I'd no doubt wish I was flying with an FFDO.

askulap said...

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i have been reading your blog for a year now ( i am an aspiring pilot in training) and now i saw you comment one of my favourite internet comics, Simulated Comic Product.
Keep the Blogging up, I`m always looking forward to reading your entries :)

Anonymous said...

One commenter touched on the topic of Air Marshalls and a "graduated response..." on board an aircraft. I don't know the deal elsewhere, but in Canada these folks make it clear they will not get involved in any onboard violence or disturbance other than direct threats to the flight deck/hi jacking. Makes sense when you think that a terrorist could use this as a diversion to smoke out the Air Marshalls.

So, on a related topic, I've been wondering for a long time, if perhaps we need security officers on board jumbo jets. 400+ people locked up together for long periods of time with no security except vigilante mob rule? Doesn't have a good ring to it.

Guy said...


To quote some of my old engineering mentors, it sounds like you have a solution in search of a problem. Airline travel is fairly mature, and I don't think there has been any huge swell in the number of passenger incidents (outside of hijackings) that would require security intervention. The few that I have read about were solved quickly and effectively by the "vigilante mob". What is an unarmed (remember, if he's armed he's just provided a hijacker with a weapon) security guard going to do so much more effectively than a passenger or flight attendant that it's worth the dead weight of carrying him around?

Anonymous said...

Anon, by graduated response I meant potentially talking down or wrestling (shorthand for a number of physical control methods) potentially violent individuals. You'r absolutely right that a prime tactic of organized hijackers would be to stage a fake fistfight or such. Then again, having a "feint" hijacker in one section of a plane and backups in others would do the same; if there was no marshal, the "feint" could just be the real deal.
Guy, good considerations, especially about the gun. If they staff the marshals with "security guards" then it is deadweight. The couple of marshals I met (and I did so after they had moved to other branches of law enforcement) were smart, decisive, but endowed with a surprising sense of humor and understanding of the human mind. Marshals can even be of use in the pre-boarding timeframe as well, and another can take their place.
It is the "threat" of their presence, and their discretion and intelligence, that make them work, not "a gun".
The question is, though, should pilots carry loaded handguns to defend their fortress flight decks? I still vote "no".