Over the past week there have been numerous news reports surrounding the arrest of Jetblue Captain Robert Paulson, at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, for having a gun in his carry on baggage, and over the past week important details seem to have been left out of these stories …
… before we delve into what is being left out, let’s recap what is being reported. On the 8th of September 2011 Captain Paulson entered a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal headed for Chicago on Delta Air Lines flight 5939, shortly before 10:00am. When Captain Paulson placed his carry on bag on the TSA’s x-ray belt a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) spotted a gun in his bag. Captain Paulson was arrested, charged with weapons possession, released without bail following his arraignment and is due to appear back in court, in Queens, on the 29th of September.
So what is being left out of these media reports? For starters Captain Paulson has previously been trained by the TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) as an armed Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO). As a Federal Flight Deck Officer, Captain Paulson has extensive training in the use of firearms in flights, defensive tactics to protect the flight deck, the use of lethal and non-lethal force in flight and psychological survival in the event of a hijacking.
The weapon spotted in Captain Paulson’s bag was his registered TSA FFDO regulation H&K .40 caliber “Pilot’s Pistol.” These sidearms are produced and sold exclusively by Heckler & Koch to commercial airline pilots who have completed the TSA Federal Flight Deck Officer program.
There are two issues with Captain Paulson’s traveling with an H&K .40 caliber handgun in his carry on baggage that caused this non-issue to become a new story … the first issue is that Captain Paulson allegedly reportedly chose to not requalify as a Federal Flight Deck Officer, this has been stated by sources within the TSA and JetBlue. As the dates of Captain Paulson’s FFDO expiration presently cannot be obtained, it is possible he was mid-travel when his certification expired. If this is the case, the TSA needs to develop a protocol for transporting an FFDO’s weapon immediately following the expiration of certification or lapse in certification and recognize that these pilots are not a threat to aviation security.
The second issue with Captain Paulson’ travel with his gun is that off duty FFDO’s are required to secure their weapon in a combination locked secure box that is then checked under the plane. Federal Flight Deck Officers that are inadvertently found to have their TSA authorized weapon in their carry on bag, while off duty, are typically sent to the ticket counter to check their weapon properly. As Captain Paulson could undoubtedly prove he had been an FFDO, and was flying with a TSA FFDO issue weapon registered to him, why was he arrested rather than sent to the counter to check his weapon under the aircraft?
Airline pilots have a tremendous responsibility and should a pilot choose to take a plane out of the sky they will not due so with handgun … they’ll do so with their hands on the controls of an aircraft.
Presently JetBlue does not appear to be taking any disciplinary action again Captain Paulson, and hopefully the legal system will work properly and Captain Paulson will have this blemish on his record removed so he can get back to flying and be able to requalify as a Federal Flight Deck Officer if he chooses to.
For those of you wondering how Federal Flight Deck Officers transport their gun onto flights they are flying, it’s easy … they skip TSA security checkpoints.
*Some Conflicting Information Is Now Becoming Available From Two Credible Sources – 17-Sept-11*