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Air marshals' skills doubted

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Dutch Ladybug

May 9, 2002
In light of a pair of post recently addressing the issue of guns on the flightdeck I felt this was a valid post.

Please don’t run me off it you disagree; I’m just offering it up for discussion and debate.

Frankly I want my own gun, a squad of Marines, two-dozen FBI SWAT guys and that guy who played Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace on my jet, just to be on the safe side.


Air marshals' skills doubted
USA Today | 24 may 02 | Blake Morrison


WASHINGTON -- The government has cut training for federal air marshal applicants and put new hires on flights without requiring the advanced marksmanship skills the program used to demand, USA TODAY has learned.
During a Senate hearing Tuesday, Transportation Security Administration head John Magaw cited the expertise of marshals in explaining his opposition to allowing pilots to carry guns. ''The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement,'' he said.

But TSA officials acknowledged Thursday that they no longer require applicants to pass the more difficult shooting test that some argue was the program's critical requirement. The government considers the marshals, who fly incognito, a critical deterrent to hijackings.

Current and former marshals say the advanced training helped prepare them to fire accurately in the close confines of passenger jets. They and others within the TSA say agency officials, under pressure to meet congressional deadlines for hiring, are lowering standards to get marshals aboard more flights quickly.

''Before Sept. 11, if you couldn't pass that test, you couldn't be an air marshal,'' a source with knowledge of the top-secret program said. ''That's how important it was.''

A senior TSA official disputed the characterizations and said that the agency has actually raised standards and enhanced training. Applicants still must pass a firearms proficiency test and will have to requalify more often than marshals did before Sept. 11. They'll also get ongoing training in intelligence, surveillance and the advanced marksmanship that used to be required to qualify.

Many come with skills their predecessors lacked, the official said. The entire training regimen ''goes far beyond what has ever been envisioned for this program,'' he said.

Supporters of the program have argued that any armed officer aboard a flight is better than none. But a source who works in the program calls the decision to no longer require the advanced marksmanship training a threat to passengers.

''It's pathetic,'' the source said. ''It's insecure and unsafe.''

The source estimated that as many as three-quarters of marshals deployed today were not required to pass the advanced marksmanship test. The source said that many of the proficient marshals are reluctant to team with marshals who haven't passed.

That test is timed and requires shooters to fire quickly at targets about 7 yards away. ''If you miss it by a tenth of a second, you flunk,'' a former marshal said. ''And if you miss the target by a quarter of an inch, you flunk.''

Before Sept. 11, fewer than 50 marshals provided protection on flights. Most flew overseas routes considered possible targets. While the program has grown, precisely how many marshals work aboard flights is classified. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta promised the Senate committee Tuesday that the agency ''will remain exactly on track with the targets'' for marshal staffing that it gave Congress in a closed meeting.
Just a quick follow up; my hubby has pointed out in that the TSA head John Magaw is the former head of the BATF under the previous administration, and that the BATF is notoriously anti-gun, AND, this might explain his position to not allow us to carry a firearm on the flightdeck after we have been properly trained and certified.

Is the sake of fairness and household harmony I will point out that my hubby is against guns on the flightdeck but only if the TSA can staff all flights with Sky Marshals. He and I have spared over this issue numerous times as of late and, well, we just agree to disagree.

He is not necessarily anti-gun; he just believes that guns do not belong on the flightdeck. Beyond that he has no problem with hunters, sportsmen or personal protection in a private residence or, if properly vetted, allowing one to conceal a gun on their person.

But don’t fret; I’m still working on him. There’s hope yet!

No problem

One of the few supervisors I had in aviation who treated me like a pilot, professional and a man was originally from Holland. If you're anything like him, you'd rate high in my book. :)
This is laughable, really....

"Supporters of the program have argued that any armed officer aboard a flight is better than none."

HA! This is great. And to think, there are those on this board that shot down (no pun intended) the idea of a properly trained pilot packin' heat. Well guess what? Now you got one on board that you can't control and he ain't properly trained, but don't worry guys, "a source who works in the program calls the decision to no longer require the advanced marksmanship training a threat to passengers.".

Just like the FAA, they're here to help.

What a friggin' riot.........
From what I understand most average pilots would have a tough time qualifying for the old Air Marshall standard. What standards should pilots be held up to if they ever do get guns in the cockpit? How many sharpshooters are there amongst us? Hitting a target within a quarter of an inch is pretty tough.

Just an FYI, TSA head John Macgaw is under enormous pressure from the Department of Transportation boss Norman Mineta (Macgaw's boss) to not let guns get on planes. Yes the same guy who is the staunchest anti-profiling proponent in the current administration (due to his stay in a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during WWII). You can blame him when the blind old lady at the boarding gate has to take her shoes off and gets her bags searched.

You're correct, the average pilot would be dangerous with a gun. Here's an excerpt I wrote from another post about the subject:

"Again, a last resort when the door has been compromised. And nothing more. Pilots that are unsure, inexperienced, or uncomfortable with it.....don't carry one. Ones that can meet requirements such as accuracy, psych evaluations, and scenario tests should have that option. Treat it with the same respect and accuracy as we do our aircraft."

Guns in the cockpit aren't the best solution, but come on. They're going to tell us now that if you have a badge and a gun, you're good to go? Now we don't need advanced marksmanship training? If there is anywhere in the world you would need it, it's in a pressurized aluminum tube at FL350 picking off 5 hijackers willing to die in a sea of 200+ innocent bystanders!

If I'm going to get shot in the back of the head from a stray bullet, at least it could be from a guy that had the skills to do the best job he could.
Nobody said you have to hit a 1/4 inch target. They said that if you missed the target by 1/4 inch you would have failed the test.
Correct. This isn't even a tactical shoot. It's a static timed shoot into a B4 or B7 target, with shots kept (I believe) in the 10 ring. That's really not a small target. When shooting for donuts, a quarter inch miss is as good as a mile. When the other guy gets it in your center body mass by 1/4 inch, then it's time to complain.

A static timed shoot isn't really much of a test or a standard. It's just part of a routeine qualification; I believe anyone who cares to investigate will find that no standard in training is lacking, nor is there any effort to bypass the qualification requirements, currency requirements, etc. I also don't believe anyone will find a lack of proper documentation to this effect.

We can talk about hitting the head of a nail all we like, but if a man can hit a dinner plate at 50 yards, or the same target at three or seven, it's definately good enough. Neatness doesn't count; results count. Considering it's not a single tap, but two or more rounds and they're not going in the same hole anyway, it's really a non-issue.

If put to the test, the air marshall won't be in a john wayne shootout across coach or first class. Chances are he will be making a shot to the back of the head or a side shot at close range through the lungs of an attacker. His strength, aside from training and judgement, is in not being recognized for who he is until it's too late for an agressor.
Thanks, Avbug. You saved me a lot of typing and trying to remember what I can about the Marshall program.

My take on dropping the test is to get as many good candidates, many who can likely outshoot me (now days) on aircarft as quickly as possible. Since it is unlikely that they will be rquired to shoot anyone any time soon, they will be trained to proficiency.

The arming of pilots is predicated on the idea of training the pilot to a reasonable standard of marksmanship, not to create Obi-Wan with a Beretta. The cockpit is the last area of defense, and if you can raise the odds on the side of the good guys, that's a good thing.

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