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Are America's Airline Pilots OK? Do They Need A Policeman Or A Grownup?
Glock Is My Copilot.
Last week an off-duty Alaska Airlines first officer who was riding along in a cockpit jump seat (one of the ways airlines move flight crew from one assignment to another) freaked out after having done magic mushrooms 48 hours before. Believing he was in a dream, he tried to activate a firefighting system that would have killed the plane’s engines and probably everyone on board, because airliners make lousy gliders. Fortunately, the pilot and copilot grabbed his hands and subdued him, got him out of the cockpit, and he calmed down and finished out the flight in the cabin. He was arrested after landing in San Francisco and has been charged in Oregon state court with 83 felony counts of attempted murder, one for each person on the plane, as well as 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft. On top of that, he caught a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
Also, for all you drug-addled aging hippies who read or write Wonkette, the term for off-duty pilots riding along in a cockpit jump seat is “deadheading.” What a long strange flight it was, far out. No bootleg tapes of the cockpit voice recorder are yet available, but we know a guy in Coos Bay, he’s cool and can let you know.
Then yesterday, a report from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general revealed that on August 22, 2022, the copilot of a Delta flight, legally armed under a post-9/11 program to arm members of flight crews, allegedly threatened to shoot the captain if he diverted the flight for a passenger’s medical emergency. (And yes, we are just hearing about it now!) The first officer, Jonathan Dunn, was indicted in a Utah federal court last month on one count of interfering with flight crew. The report didn’t state the flight’s origin or destination points.
According to the inspector general, Dunn, the co-pilot, had "a disagreement" with the captain, who wanted to potentially divert the flight "due to a passenger medical event."
Dunn then allegedly "told the captain they would be shot multiple times" if the flight was diverted, the inspector general said.
Here’s the CBS News report on the incident:
Dunn was carrying a TSA-issued gun because he was part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, created after 9/11 because obviously we needed flight crew members to be able to fight off terrorists storming airliner cockpits. After a year of lobbying from the NRA and pilots’ unions, a provision to allow flight crew members to voluntarily carry guns — after training and screening of course — was included in the big Homeland Security Act of 2002, signed into law by George W. Bush. Pilots who pass the screening and complete the training are actual federal law enforcement agents like federal air marshals, complete with authority to use deadly force if necessary, at least while on duty in the cockpit. So the training and screening are presumably more rigorous than what many states want for teachers to be similarly armed against school shooters.
Maaaaybe the screening needs some revision. Particularly since CBS News also reports that the indicted former Delta copilot, Jonathan Dunn, is the very same former Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn who refused to get the COVID vaccine, was relieved of command, then unsuccessfully sued the Pentagon in an attempt to have his “religious objection” recognized. He lost that case in April 2022, just a few months before the incident on the Delta flight.
But wait, isn’t it terribly unfair to condemn the TSA program for arming flight crews just in case, all because one bad apple who slipped through the screening had a bad day? We suppose you could make that case, if there were any data showing that the program has been a rousing success in preventing terrorist assaults on planes, but any such data would have to make sure that it posed a better deterrent than other security measures, like tightened passenger screenings (no more box cutters), ramped up intelligence, or most obviously, reinforcing and locking flight deck doors.
Back in 2018, Donald Trump argued for arming classroom teachers because after all, he was a stable genius who knew things:
“You know a lot of people don’t understand that a lot of airline pilots now — a lot of them carry guns,” Trump said. “And … I have to say that things have changed a lot. People aren’t attacking the way they would routinely attack, and maybe you have the same situation in schools.”
Of course, that ignores the fact that even before 9/11, hijackings had already fallen sharply since the 1960s and ‘70s, the last period Trump seems to have taken in new information.
You know, it might be about time to reconsider whether the program is doing any good at all. After all, we’re all still taking off our shoes in response to a failed bombing, so shouldn’t an actually armed copilot making threats suggest the program get a second look?
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