Earlier this year, a pilot was stowing his Heckler & Koch USP .40, issued to him by the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, while his co-pilot prepared to land the plane. As he was placing the pistol, locked in its holster, into his flight bag, it discharged a single shot which exited the left side of the plane, doing little damage.
Outside the cockpit, no one heard the gunshot, and Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte, N.C., landed safely. But Langenhahn has been suspended without pay, according to an airline spokesman.
Some 10,000 pilots participate in the program, which allows for pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers to carry firearms in the cockpit during flights, and according to the TSA this is the first time a gun has been discharged. But some pilots say it was an accident waiting to happen.
At issue is a TSA requirement that pilots remove the guns from their belts and lock them up using a government-provided combination padlock before leaving the cockpit, a requirement that pilots say creates unsafe conditions.
“The pilot was trying to lock his gun and remove the holster in an airplane going 300 miles per hour in preparation for landing and the padlock depressed the trigger,”said a federal flight deck officer who declined to be identified. “TSA knew this could happen but didn’t get rid of the requirement.”
“Every other federal law enforcement officer in the air and on the ground carries his gun concealed on his person where he can control it. And he never touches it except in an emergency, because the less it is handled, the better,” said David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance. “TSA’s got these pilots taking off and putting on their guns 10 times a day. It’s a recipe for disaster and that’s why no other agency does it.”