Are pilots armed to defend themselves in event of a terrorist attack? It seems that in view of terrorist attacks and hijackings since 9/11 they would be.


3 Answers 3


Some pilots are armed, like casey says. Most, however, are not. And they have very little reason to:

  1. After 9/11, a lot stricter security measures have been made on all airplanes to limit the access non-essential staff has to the cockpit. This includes measures like a reinforced locked door between the cabin and cockpit.
  2. Because of the improved measures, terrorists these days are less inclined to use the plane as a weapon, choosing instead to use bombs in their shoes, underwear or carryon luggage to detonate the plane.
  3. A gun on a plane can be dangerous, especially in the cockpit. it can hit vital instrumentation, damage the fuselage or a window, or cause friendly fire.
  4. In the confined space of an airplane, some self-defense training is likely to be more useful than a gun. in addition to collateral damage, a gunshot can cause the passengers to panic. An assailant can also steal the gun, giving even more cause for concern.
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Is the Mythbusters link broken? $\endgroup$
    – landroni
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Note that, as shown by Mythbusters, putting a bullet through a plane window does a whole lot of nothing much at all. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby indeed, the hole provided by the outflow valves is far bigger than a bullet hole. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanVanMatre Sure, it causes damage and, sure, landing the plane without that damage would be safer than landing it with. However, the damage is by no means disastrous and you need to consider the baseline. If you're seriously considering firing a gun in the cockpit, the situation must be pretty seriously bad. If you manage to end that situation and the only cost to the aircraft is that you can't see through the whole of one of your windows, that probably means you've got yourself into a much safer place than you were in before you fired the gun. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanVanMatre Thanks for the praise but, actually, my lance was true all along. The strawman was entirely yours: I never said anything about explosive decompression. The video could have been addressing a myth that shooting through a plane window would cause a plague of locusts and it wouldn't have altered my point: nothing much happens when a bullet goes through an aircraft window at altitude. (Also, it was more a small informational sign than a lance.) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:26

Some are -- in the US. The TSA has a program called Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) that involves training from the US Federal Marshals. The pilots who participate in this program are armed but will not display that status when in view of the public so you will normally be unable to identify them.


The problem with a gun is that if staff are the terrorists then everything becomes that much more dangerous.
In some cases such as FedEx hijacking, and other ones, the chance of the hijacking being an inside job is higher. Therefore it was much more easier to overpower one hijacker who wanted to assault crew physically, than it would be if he were carrying a gun.
Guns usually make things much much worse.

EDIT: Even if the pilot has a gun. It still gives opportunity for the hijacker to snatch the gun. Pilots are usually busy flying the plane rather than constantly inspecting who is behind them and having a gun on the ready. And if the flight is a long one and pilot retrieves into the bed to sleep then likelihood of having the gun snatched is even higher. And if you look at some hijackings, the hijacker usually has the jump on the victims, so him obtaining a gun would not be too difficult.

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    $\begingroup$ Yet if the pilot, who is already in control of the aircraft has a gun, it really doesn't make him much more able to hijack the plane, now does it? It would be a different matter if we were talking about stewards, and in that case I'd agree, but we're talking about pilots here $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ in case of the FedEx case, had the other crewmembers had guns to control the situation, the attempt would have been over a lot earlier. It was because the hijacker had an axe and the person trying to control him was unarmed that it took as long as it did. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ For anyone that hasn't seen it, the Air Crash Investigation/Mayday episode on this flight is worth watching: youtube.com/watch?v=IQcNxESf-Ho $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting if pilots had a gun, then instead of him using an axe, he would have changed his plan to snatch pilot's gun rather than charge in with an axe. And then a desperate man with a gun will be more reckless in his shooting than pilots who would try not damaging the plane and plunging to their fiery death. $\endgroup$
    – Quillion
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 13:36

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