NPR logo Armed JetBlue Pilot At Boston's Logan Raises Concerns

Armed JetBlue Pilot At Boston's Logan Raises Concerns

In the years after 9/11 when the Homeland Security Department decided to allow some commercial airline pilots to carry handguns as a last line of defense against any future attempt by terrorists to takeover cockpits, some critics of the idea warned that arming cockpit crew members could make air travel less safe.

So far, that hasn't appeared to be the case, at least not from what's been disclosed to the public.

But an incident like one being reported out of Boston's Logan International Airport is likely to raise some of those earlier concerns again.

An armed JetBlue pilot was relieved of a handgun in the crew lounge, according to news reports, after sending a message to someone indicating that he might be considering harming himself.

While officials apparently haven't said publicly whether the pilot is part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, the evidence points in that direction.

An excerpt from an Associated Press story:

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts State Police said Friday they took a gun off a JetBlue pilot at Logan International Airport after he allegedly told an acquaintance he might harm himself.

The pilot was not charged with illegal possession of a firearm, and the gun was taken by federal authorities, suggesting he might be a member of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.

The post-9/11 program screens, trains, arms and deputizes pilots as a last line of aircraft security. There are reportedly 10,000 pilots carrying handguns under the program.

The conflict occurred Thursday, and the pilot was immediately taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for evaluation. The airline refused to identify him and issued a statement saying he wasremoved from duty "for health-related reasons."

JetBlue also said no passengers were harmed, nor was any flight in jeopardy. It did not immediately respond to questions about whether the pilot had already flown Thursday or was about to fly.

"We continue to work closely with Boston authorities to ensure our crew member receives appropriate medical attention," said spokesman Bryan Baldwin.

State Police spokesman David Procopio told The Associated Press a federal air marshal alerted troopers about 1:45 p.m., after the acquaintance reported the pilot sent a communication - either a text message or e-mail - "that suggested a possible inclination by that person to harm himself." He could not say whether the pilot threatened to misuse the gun itself.

Procopio said three troopers, quickly backed up by four more, confronted the pilot at a crew lounge. The pilot volunteered to undergo a medical evaluation and was taken away by ambulance.

"The subject was in possession of a firearm, which has been seized. The investigation is ongoing," Procopio said.

Asked whether the pilot was a member of the Flight Deck Officer program, Procopio said: "He was not charged with firearm possession." He also said federal authorities took possession of the gun.