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Can Pilots Carry Guns?

Flying is a dangerous business. Pilots have to be ready to deal with turbulence, extreme weather, and potential damage to the aircraft. However, sometimes the threats come from within the plane, such as terrorist attacks, hijacking attempts, or even unruly passengers. Pilots have to do everything they can to ensure flight safety, but can they also carry a gun?

The answer depends on the type of plane the pilot is flying, the employer, and a few other factors, such as the country of operation. However, most pilots are allowed to carry guns, and depending on the work situation, they will do so.

Here is what you need to know if you’ve ever wondered if your pilot was armed.

Can Commercial Pilots Carry Guns?

You may be surprised to learn that not only can commercial pilots carry guns, but there is also a program from the federal government to prepare them to do so. However, that doesn’t mean your pilot can just bring along a favorite gun to go to the shooting range after getting off duty. Only pilots who graduate from the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program can carry guns while flying.

After 9/11, the U.S. government created the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program to prepare pilots for potential hijackings. Licensed commercial pilots or crew members volunteer for the program to learn how to defend their flights in case of a terrorist attack or violent passenger.

The contents of the FFDO program are classified, but the publicly available information states that the program prepares pilots to carry weapons. After graduating from the FFDO program, a pilot is a law enforcement officer deputized by Homeland Security and a certified Air Marshal ready to deal with threats to the flight.

However, other details around the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program are vague. For example, nobody knows how many licensed FFDO officers there are besides the government, although estimates place the number at somewhere between 10-25% of commercial pilots. Pilots do not disclose if they are armed, so any time you fly, someone on the crew could be carrying a gun—even internationally if the U.S. government obtains special permission.

Can Military Pilots Carry Guns?

It seems like a no-brainer that military pilots will carry guns. After all, they are in the military! It may seem redundant to carry a gun while flying a machine that can drop bombs the size of cars, but members of the military have to be prepared for anything. 

The most common reason military pilots carry guns is to protect themselves if the plane is shot down. In case the pilot has to make an emergency landing in enemy territory, a gun can be crucial to ensuring survival.

The regulations around pilots carrying guns differ depending on the branch of the military a pilot is serving in. For example, Air Force pilots now carry a GAU-5A Aircrew Self-Defense Weapon, a quickly-assembled machine gun that fits under an ejector seat and has a range of several hundred feet.

Other branches of the military are not quite so well-equipped. Army pilots have to make do with a Berretta pistol which is part of the standard survival kit, and according to veteran experiences, Navy pilots experience much of the same.

Can Private Pilots Carry Guns?

As usual, the regulations around pilots for private planes carrying guns are looser than they are for airline pilots. Pilots flying private planes don’t have to undergo a special training program such as the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program to carry a gun. Instead, they just have to have a license to carry.

Of course, carrying a gun on a plane isn’t as simple as it is carrying a gun around town. Pilots have to check that their license to carry and concealed weapons permits are valid in the place they are flying to as well as the place they flying out of. Some airports mandate that pilots alert the ground crew if they are carrying a weapon when radioing in for landing instructions.

There are a few reasons why private pilots may want to carry guns, even if it is a pain to look up regulations in different destinations. One is sport. Many serious hunters use private planes to fly to remote ranges and hunt game, or pilots can just want to go to the shooting range at their destination.

However, some private pilots have to carry guns for their job. Remember that private pilots don’t just refer to people who fly for sport but also those who fly for work that isn’t commercial passenger traffic. 

Pilots who fly wealthy passengers in private planes may also function as bodyguards or personal protectors, while pilots flying cargo planes with precious materials inside carry guns to protect themselves in case of a crash landing or an attempted hijacking.

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