A co-pilot for Southwest Airlines was arrested this week in New York on weapons charges after airport security discovered a handgun in his carry-on bag, according to this story from Fox News.
As Erik Gibson, 55, entered the Albany International Airport checkpoint, TSA officers found a .380 caliber handgun among his carry-on items when it was detected by an X-ray machine.
The flight Gibson was to co-pilot, headed for Chicago, was delayed for about four hours because of the incident, according to this story from CBSnews.com.
Gibson told authorities he forgot the gun was in his carry-on bag and that he had flown to Albany from New Orleans on Sunday, but had gone through a crew line that did not have security screening, the Fox News story says.
From the photos posted with the CBS story, Gibson’s pistol is a Smith & Wesson bodyguard with a laser sight, a popular self-defense and concealed carry handgun. Neither story says whether Gibson has a concealed carry permit in his home state, or if he lives in a state with constitutional carry.
Flying with a firearm in a carry-on bag is prohibited, but traveling with the gun is allowed if the owner checks it in according to TSA and airline regulations.
“This incident highlights the importance of what TSA and its dedicated security officers do each and every day in protecting the flying public,” TSA Upstate new York Federal Security Director Bart Johnson said in the story, despite the fact that Gibson, while extremely careless, did not carry the gun into an airport with any malicious intent and essentially made the mistake of carrying-on his bag instead of checking it.
Johnson also ignored the fact that TSA did nothing to prevent Gibson from flying into Albany from New Orleans with a firearm in his carry-on bag.
Gibson was charged with misdemeanor weapon possession and released on $200 bail.
While Gibson didn’t follow TSA procedure for carrying his self-defense pistol, the idea of whether or not pilots should be armed while doing their job isn’t a new one—in fact, there is an armed pilot flying on about a million commercial flights every year, though some think every pilot should be armed.
Back in 2003, just two years after the 9/11 terrorist hijackings, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act was created, which included the formation of a Federal Flight Deck Officers program. FFDOs are pilot or flight engineer volunteers who are trained, permitted, and armed by the TSA and carry weapons in the cockpits of commercial airliners. Once training is complete a FFDOs is considered a fully deputized law enforcement officer. In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed a law expanding the program to include cargo pilots and certain other members of flight crews.
According to this story in the New York Daily News, the TSA has always been unsupportive of the idea of armed pilots, and that former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and past TSA chief James Loy both vehemently opposed the idea.
Later, former Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano suggested cutting or eliminating funding for the FFDO program in favor of programs like the Federal Air Marshal Program.
The FAMP costs about $1 billion a year to put an estimated 2,200 armed air marshals into the air at a cost of $3,300 per flight, the story says.
That’s compared to the paltry-in-comparison $23 million spent annually on the FFDO program, which has so far put 2,500 armed pilots into the skies, the story says.
The Airline Pilots Security Alliance has accused the TSA of having a “deep, institutional opposition to the FFDO program.”