Pilot’s gun fires on US Airways flight | AspenTimes.com

Pilot’s gun fires on US Airways flight

George Merritt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ” A gun belonging to the pilot of a US Airways plane discharged as the aircraft was on approach to land in North Carolina over the weekend, the first time a weapon issued under a federal program to arm pilots was fired, authorities said Monday.

The “accidental discharge” Saturday aboard Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte did not pose a danger to the aircraft or the 124 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants aboard, said Greg Alter of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

“We know that there was never any danger to the aircraft or to the occupants on board,” Alter said.

It was the first time a pilot’s weapon has been fired on a plane under a program created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to allow pilots, for example, to use a firearm to defend against any act of air piracy or criminal violence, he said.

The Transportation Security Administration is investigating how the gun discharged and is being assisted by the Air Marshal Service, Alter said.

The Air Marshal Service declined to release additional details.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said his agency is also investigating to make sure that the plane is safe. The Airbus A319 has been removed from service, the airline said.

The TSA initially opposed the Flight Deck Officer program to arm and train cockpit personnel. Agency officials worried that introducing a weapon to commercial flights was dangerous and that other security enhancements since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made it unnecessary. Congress and pilots backed the program.

“The TSA has never been real supportive of this program,” said Mike Boyd, who runs the Colorado-based aviation consulting firm The Boyd Group. “It’s something I think Congress kind of put on them.”

Pilots must volunteer, take a psychological test and complete a weeklong firearms training program run by the government to keep a gun in the cockpit.

Boyd said the only way he can surmise a gun going off in flight is if it was not properly stored.

“A properly stored weapon with the safety on does not go off,” he said. “The gun had to be out in the open. The gun had to be handled. The gun had to be in somebody’s control.”

Boyd said he supports the program to arm pilots, saying, “if somebody who has the ability to fly a 747 across the Pacific wants a gun, you give it to them.” But he said Saturday’s incident could have been much worse.

“If that bullet had compromised the shell of the airplane, ” he said, “i.e., gone through a window, the airplane could have gone down.”