Transportation Security Administration
Office of Law Enforcement and Workforce Engagement, Aviation Programs
“‘Never again. Never forget.’ That’s a mantra for every single one of our law enforcement officers,” explained a TSA senior leader, when describing what motivates pilots to become Federal Flight Deck Officers.
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists gained access to the cockpits on four passenger planes and crashed the planes into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On the final plane, passengers overpowered the hijackers and the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. As a result of these attacks, 2,996 people perished, including all passengers and crew aboard the four hijacked planes.
To prevent against future attacks on commercials airlines, the Transportation Security Administration began training commercials airline pilots to become Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs). FFDOs are pilots trained in law enforcement tactics, techniques, armed, deputized, and authorized by law to take defensive action against breaches into the cockpit of aircraft.
Impressively, this critical component of aviation security is carried out by a volunteer workforce. The training is not required by airlines, nor are pilots compensated for their additional efforts to keep their passengers and America safe from similar attacks—pilots use personal time and vacation days, and sometimes even forgo pay, to complete the required training in order to maintain their FFDO status. Pilots participate in an initial training at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), must requalify twice a year and attend a Recurrent Training, which includes being redeputized between the third and fifth year as an FFDO.
Each year, nearly 1 million flights are secured by volunteer FFDOs, and the program has proven to be a vital aviation security piece. During crisis events, having a pilot or first officer that is an FFDO influences the course of action for decisionmakers.
To thank these pilots for their service, the TSA is a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which it uses in combination with its own special recognition program for the committed volunteers who help keep flights safe. Exemplar FFDOs are honored quarterly and annually, and after five years of service, the TSA presents FFDOs with its own special commendation—a FFDO badge encased in Lucite. Finally, for those who have volunteered more than 4,000 hours of service, FFDOs receive the President’s Lifetime Volunteer Service Award signed by the President of the United States. Since the inception of the program, over 900 FFDOs have been honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
TSA credits the aviation industry as a patriotic workforce that feels “a sense of pride in what they do for providing a high level of security to their aircraft, crew and passengers.” Fifteen years after 9/11, pilots remain moved by the events of that day, and also are responsive to current terrorist events and attacks on aviation around the globe. These national security volunteers continue to sign up in impressive numbers in order to serve. Current training programs are booked through next March to accommodate the thousand plus new pilots that are committed to serving as FFDOs.