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Guns In The Hands Of Pilots

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The attacks of Sept 11, 2001 eventually landed handguns into some pilot's cockpits. Are these guns in the right hands?

There are a few undeniable facts about hijacking aircraft: It has been relatively easy, so far, to dominate passengers and crew members, even with the simplest weapons; on the other hand, it is rather difficult to mount any sort of defence inside an aircraft against such attackers. Pilots are required to fly the aircraft and they can do barely else if a mess develops on the back cabin, while it remains true that unless hijackers want to destroy the plane right there, they need to get access to the cockpit in order to control it completely.

So, the idea of giving firearms and combat survival training to some pilots was born. This concept seems on one side far fetched but at the same time carries much sense; the key is how access to the cockpit will be restricted, for if terrorist get inside, what pilots could do, even with weapons, is very limited.

First of all, if the aircraft is not flying in autopilot at the time of the fight, there is no way to control it without placing both hands, both feet and both eyes where they should be, in front of the panel. Leaving them for a couple of seconds could sentence the plane. I tell you this as a pilot: playing hero under such circumstances would indeed be suicidal. Big, commercial aircraft cannot be recovered from an accidental spin or any kind of control loss like in the movies; it just doesn't work like that.

If the cabin door is kept closed and no one finds it easy to enter then things could be different and weapons in the hands of those crew members inside could work well as survival tools. If a pilot is given at least a couple of seconds of alarm, something could be done, and the entrance to any cockpit is a narrow passage where terrorists or hijackers become easy targets.

But the problem of this is that eventually, pilots and security officers might begin to lean too much on the assumption that pilots will act like elite fighters when they are just that, pilots, with one or two survival guns. Inside an aircraft there are lots of things that - if broken - could cause a serious problem, and a shootout inside a cockpit or an access alley could prove disastrous.

And what could be done if hijackers take a couple of hostages as human shields to the front of the aircraft? The commander's responsibility is to assure the safety of the passengers he or she is carrying, so how would such a person decide under such circumstances? It seems simple: the aircraft's commander should consider whether it is safer for the majority of passengers and crewmembers to act in a way or another. Seems easy, as I said, but how do you do that? What factors could or should be considered? All in all, reality tells us that is not easy at all, and unless there is some legal work done to insure the pilot that nothing will happen to him or her in such an event (i.e. that he or she will be sued for "sacrificing" the passengers taken as human shields, for example), that person will always lean towards accepting the hijackers' demands because that has accepted as the best way not to harm the passengers and fellow crew.

So, in my opinion and taking aside all the tabloid-like speculation and hype that has developed around these flying guns, it is ok that pilots should carry them because they offer a last-ditch survival solution to a in increasing problem, but nobody should assume that such a procedure will solve the whole problem. Hijackers may be forced to think twice about their intentions, but they will also think of novel ways to open the cockpit door.

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