WASHINGTON (AP) — Armed airline pilots may be at risk of discharging their weapons on planes because of cumbersome rules imposed by Congress and the Transportation Security Administration, a group representing the pilots said Tuesday.
A 2002 law prohibits pilots from carrying their guns outside the cockpit without a trigger lock, and as a result they must frequently affix or remove trigger locks during flights.
That law and the TSA policy that goes with it may be responsible for a March 22 incident in which a pilot accidentally discharged his weapon on U.S. Airways Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte, N.C., said Mike Karn, security chairman of the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American Airlines pilots. The gun went off as the Airbus 319 was 8,000 feet in the air and 10 minutes from landing.
Photos obtained by The Associated Press showed a small exit hole on the plane's exterior below the cockpit window. The pilot later told police the gun went off while he was trying to stow it as the crew got ready to land. It was the first time a pilot's weapon was fired on a plane since the certification program was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The gun and the special holster it must be carried in can be jostled in such a way during the flight that the weapon could discharge by accident, according to a video description posted on the Internet YouTube site. An industry source familiar with the policy said the video was an accurate portrayal of the rules. The industry source requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about sensitive security policies.
The Transportation Security Administration would not comment on the details of the current policy, citing security concerns. But spokesman Greg Alter said the video presents a hypothetical situation.
"The incident that occurred aboard an in-flight aircraft on March 22, 2008, was a one-of-a-kind occurrence," Alter said.
He said the current policy was "consistent with long-standing law enforcement practices." TSA was investigating what happened March 22.
"Any lessons learned will be implemented," he added.
Officials with the Federal Flight Deck Officers association, which represents armed pilots, said the current policy is flawed and should be changed.
Armed pilots have covered millions of flights since the program launched in April 2003.