There’s a certain element of risk and danger involved when flying – and this has nothing to do with flying the plane itself.

Airline pilots fly passenger jets that are susceptible to hijackings, the danger involved in being a military pilot is obvious, and even private pilots may have to defend themselves in the event they crash in the wilderness. So it’s only natural to wonder if pilots carry guns or not.

In short, airline pilots can carry a gun if they’ve completed the Federal Deck Officer Program, military pilots are permitted to carry and are issued with guns while on duty, and private pilots can carry a gun if they have the permit to do so and follow state laws.

Not All Pilots Carry Guns

Private Pilots

While individual states, local communities, municipalities, and counties may have their own specific regulations, at the state level, generally speaking, private pilots are allowed to carry guns.

However, the AOPA state that any pilot wishing to carry a gun should review the appropriate regulations and should contact the local airport management or law enforcement authorities for approval to land at any airport with a firearm on board.

In other words, a private pilot can carry a gun as long as they have a carry concealed weapons permit (CCW permit) if required by state laws, and ensure that they follow the appropriate local regulations that govern an airport.

Airline Pilots

Airline pilots are legally permitted to carry a gun as long as they have completed the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.

What is the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program?

This program, which is run by the Federal Air Marshal Service, was created following the September 11 attacks in 2001 as an additional layer of security.

Only airline pilots can qualify for the program, which means other commercial pilots such as charter pilots, business aviation pilots, flight instructors, etc. are not able to participate in the program and carry a gun.

The first gun-carrying pilots graduated in April 2003. Hundreds of airline pilots apply and take part in the program each year.

How Many Active Federal Flight Deck Officers Are There?

The exact number of active FFDOs is unknown because it is considered classified information to protect the identity of active FFDOs and the integrity of the program.

However, we can estimate that approximately one in 10 US airline pilots have completed the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program and are armed.

Can Airline Pilots Carry Guns Outside the USA?

According to 49 U.S. Code § 44921 – Federal flight deck officer program, “In consultation with the Secretary of State, the Administrator may take such action as may be necessary to ensure that a Federal flight deck officer may carry a firearm in a foreign country whenever necessary to participate in the program”.

In other words, according to the legislation, airline pilots are permitted to carry guns when flying internationally. However, the countries in which US airline pilots are traveling to may not permit entry with a gun.

Military Pilots

Military pilots, whether they are part of the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines, all carry guns. While a standard issue pistol may not be much help way up there in the sky against an enemy plane, if a pilot were to be shot down, they will at least have a way to defend themselves on the ground.

While a pistol is certainly better than nothing when it comes to a pilot defending themselves, the Air Force now equips their pilots with the “GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon”, which is a variant of the M4 carbine with a modified quick-release barrel. It gives Air Force pilots more firepower with its 300-meter range.

See Also: A Complete Guide to Airline Operations

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).