Sunday, April 1, 2007


Safety or Disempowerment of the Cockpit?
Adam Larson
Caustic Logic/Guerillas Without Guns
April 9 2007

When looking at the failure of the world’s mightiest Air Force to shoot down four hijacked airliners during an attack that lasted nearly two hours, it is important to remember that the far better option would have been to prevent the hijackings in the first place. The situation didn’t have to get to the point where orders to shoot down a planeload of innocents was necessary. Of course, stopping the men at the airport or before, preventing them even boarding, was the best sort of outcome with no possibility of a 9/11 size disaster. But even if these lines of defense failed (as was, of course, the case), there was still a possible last line of defense short of an air-to-air missile - the passengers, crews, and pilots aboard the planes themselves. If the numerous warnings of suicide hijackings the government had received in the months before the attack had been passed on to the airlines or the public, they may have known what was at stake and fought back, as the passengers on Flight 93 are believed to have successfully done once they learned the stakes.

It was soon noted that against terrorists armed only with box cutters, and alerted to the possibility of suicide hijackings, an armed pilot who knew the stakes may have been able, with the speed of a single bullet, to prevent his plane being turned into a missile. After September 11th, many voices went up asking that pilots be armed to meet future threats. Captain Stephen Luckey, Chairman of the National Flight Security Committee of the Airline Pilots Association, addressed this issue in testimony before a House Subcommittee on May 2nd, 2002. Luckey maintained that this drive to arm pilots was actually a question of re-arming them, as airline pilots indeed had been, quietly, allowed to carry guns onboard until… right before 9/11.

Luckey put it in context; “in 1961, the FAA amended federal aviation regulations, with Congressional support, to permit pilots to be armed with the consent of their airline – the agency removed that regulatory language in July 2001.” [1] That was quick – now for an instant replay: “the agency removed that regulatory language in July, 2001.” In 1961, in response to the Cuban missile Crisis and a spate of Cuban hijackings, the FAA enacted a rule that allowed pilots to carry guns on commercial flights with the purpose of stopping hijackings early. For forty years the rule stood, but in July 2001, the FAA rescinded it.

According to the conservative WorldNet Daily, the gun ban was set to take effect on an unspecified date in September. [2] In another article, WorldNet also reported that this decision was made despite a specific warning to FAA and other government officials from the ubiquitous Richard Clarke. On July 5, the nation’s top counter-terrorism agent reportedly told FAA representatives and others at a meeting in the White House that “something really spectacular is going to happen here and it’s going to happen soon.” [3]

An FAA spokesman downplayed the impact of the gun ban, saying “in the past, FAA regulations permitted pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit” but that “that was never put into effect because no requests… were ever made.” [4] Apparently, in forty years, there was not one request from an airline pilot to be armed. There must have been no successful drives to increase awareness of the policy. Were the pilots ever even aware of the policy? This rule stood, allegedly unused, for decades; if it was never used, why bother rescinding it after it had sat for so long? What was suddenly so different that mandated the change? The only thing I see different is the hijacking threat – if ever there was a time pilots would start asking for permission to carry guns, the summer and fall of 2001 would have, should have, been it.

It’s not likely that any of the pilots involved had been disarmed by this decision, and so it likely had no effect on the attack. But once again, the timing of this decision is strange, perhaps indicating a better safe than sorry mentality, a fear that some pilots might try to use that old rule in light of the threat and thus spoil a perfectly useful attack. The reasoning has been explained as eliminating redundancy, but on the question of timing, FAA officials referred WorldNet to the Department of Transportation, who refused to return calls. [5] If no pilots had ever asked for guns, or, as I argue in other posts, there were to be no hijackers to shoot, then the FAA’s decision served no tactical purpose, and yet its timing still seems at the far edge of coincidence territory to say the least.

Back to Federal Attack Assistance Masterlist
[1] Luckey, Stephen. “Arming Flight Crews Against Terrorist Acts. Statement before Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C. May 2, 2002. Accessed November 7, 2004 at:
[2], [5] Dougherty, John. “Homeland Insecurity: FAA began disarming pilots in ’87.” Worldnet Daily. May 29, 2002. Accessed November 7, 2004 at:
[3]Vulliami, Ed. “A Bad Call?” The Guardian. May 19, 2002. Accessed November 18, 2004 at:,11209,718267,00.html
[4] Dougherty, John. “Armed-pilot rule nixed after hijack briefing.” Worldnet Daily. May 18, 2002. Accessed November 7, 2004 at:

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