The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) believes there are "major safety issues" concerning the carriage of guns on aircraft, writes Guy Norris. While that is clearly the case for passengers, Boeing believes the firing of bullets - high velocity or otherwise - is unlikely to lead to an airframe loss.

In 2002, Ron Hinderberger, Boeing Commercial Airplanes director of aviation safety, testified to a US House of Representatives Aviation Subcommittee that the risk of loss of an aircraft due to a stray round from a handgun "is very slight". The finding resulted from Boeing's high-level analysis of the effects of firearm discharge on aircraft systems.

"Boeing's commercial service history contains cases of gunfire on board in-service aircraft, all of which landed safely," says Hinderberger. "Commercial aircraft structure is designed with sufficient strength, redundancy and damage tolerance that single or even multiple handgun bullet holes would not result in loss of the aircraft. A single bullet hole in the fuselage skin would have little effect on cabin pressurisation. Aircraft are designed to withstand much larger impacts, whether intentional or accidental."

Assuming larger guns are unlikely to be smuggled aboard an aircraft, most ballistic effects studies - like those being undertaken by the FAA on aircraft systems and structures - are generally focused on smaller weapons such as 9mm pistols.

Hinderberger admits there remains a "remote possibility of causing a fire, explosion, engine failure, or loss of critical systems, given an unfortunate placement of shots and combination of conditions". He believes it is time for a "very thoughtful" assessment of the risks and trade-offs involved when considering arming flightcrews.

Source: Flight International