U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., is unhappy with plans to slash funding for a program that allows pilot to carry handguns in the cockpit as the last line of defense against hijackers.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget cuts funding for the Federal Flight Deck Officer program by more half, from $25 million per year to $12.5 million per year.
Armed pilots in the program outnumber federal air marshals, and are much more cost effective, costing on average about $15 per flight, Cravaack said during a recent U.S. House Homeland Security Committee meeting. Staffing a flight with a federal marshal cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Cravaack, a retired commercial airline pilot, spent time in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. Participants volunteer for the duty and undergo training at federal academies before they are authorized to carry their weapons in the cockpit. The program was developed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists seized and crashed several commercial airplanes, killing thousands of citizens.
"Quite frankly, [the pilots are] the last line of defense when it comes to air piracy," Cravaack told observers during the hearing..
Critics have said the Obama administration plans to slowly eliminate the program, but Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano disputed that.
"It's our intention to reduce it ... but we have not predicted its demise," Napolitano said in the hearing. "We just think we can do it with less."
Napolitano defended the cuts, saying, "... in a difficult budget, we had to make difficult decisions and this is one," Napolitano said.
Obama administration officials have said that "risk-basked" security measures and other efforts, such as locked cockpit doors and increased passenger screening, have been effective deterrents against terrorist activity.
"I would strongly encourage you to reevaluate that position," Cravaack told Napolitano.
Here's a look at the exchange between Cravaack and Napolitano: