Concerns voiced by federal flightdeck officers over poorly designed holsters for their hand guns have been validated in a recently issued report by the Department of Homeland Security's office of inspector general (OIG).
Potential issues with guns in the cockpit were highlighted in March when a US Airways pilot, armed as part of the Transportation Security Administration's federal flightdeck officer programme, accidentally fired his handgun while his Airbus A319 was on the approach to Charlotte Douglas International airport in North Carolina after a flight from Denver, Colorado. The bullet pierced the left side of the cockpit and fuselage but did not cause any damage to the flight critical systems. None of the passengers or crew was hurt.
Although DHS officials will not confirm that the OIG investigation was linked to the US Airways incident, the scope of the project - to find out if the design of TSA-issued locking holsters used by the federal flightdeck officer programme increases the likelihood of an accidental discharge of a weapon in an aircraft cockpit - would appear to link the two.
"We examined the holster and observed that its design renders the weapon vulnerable to accidental discharges if improperly handled," says the OIG. "In a darkened cockpit, under the stress of meeting the operational needs of the aircraft, a pilot could inadvertently discharge the weapon by failing to ensure it is properly seated in the holster, securing the trigger lock, and then pushing the weapon inward to secure the holster snap."
Investigators also found that it was possible to fire the gun while inserting the hasp, or trigger lock, into an "incorrectly seated" weapon. "Using a scale, we determined that only 6-7lb [2.7-3.2kg] of lateral pressure on the padlock was sufficient to induce a discharge," the report says.
The OIG recommends a weapon locking system that is "simple and forgiving" and suggests the TSA should discontinue the use of the current locking holster and consider other methods for federal flightdeck officers to secure their weapons." The DHS declines to discuss the programme due to security concerns.