Pilot’s gun discharges on US Airways flight
By DIANA RUGG / WCNC
E-mail Diana: DRugg@wcnc.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C.– A gun carried by a US Airways pilot accidentally discharged during a flight from Denver to Charlotte Saturday, according to a statement released by the airline.
The statement said the discharge happened on Flight 1536, which left Denver at approximately 6:45 a.m. and arrived in Charlotte at approximately 11:51 a.m.
The Airbus A319 plane landed safely and none of the flight’s 124 passengers or five crew members was injured, according to the statement. It was a full flight. An airline spokeswoman said the plane has been taken out of service to make sure it is safe to return to flight.
WCNC’s Mark Boone talked to a US Airways spokesperson on Monday, who said she did not know if the plane was still grounded. A source told WCNC that the plane remains inside a hanger at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman reached by WCNC Sunday said the pilot is part of TSA’s Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, which trains pilots to carry guns on flights. Andrea McCauley said the gun discharged in the cockpit, but she could not release how the gun was being transported at the time. She did not release the pilot’s name, but said he was authorized to carry the weapon and was last requalified in the FFDO program last November.
A statement from TSA said the airplane was never in danger, and the TSA and the Federal Air Marshals Service are investigating the incident.
“We know that there was never any danger to the aircraft or to the occupants on board,” said Greg Alter of the Federal Air Marshal Service.
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 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.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)