US Air Marshall Programme Is About To Be Overhauled

According to the American news outlet ABC, the way Federal Air Marshals are distributed throughout an aircraft is set to change. Simple Flying has learnt that the TSA, who oversees the program, is set to start seating air marshals at the rear of an aircraft. This move will allow the marshals to keep an eye on things that are happening inside the aircraft. Traditionally air marshals have always been seated at the front of the aircraft. This allows them to provide an additional layer of security against any threats to the cockpit, a role that was reinforced following the 9/11 attacks. This news comes after news that the TSA may have been following you.

air marshal
The TSA are responsible for overseeing the air marshal program.

What Is An Air Marshal?

The federal air marshal scheme sees TSA agents placed onboard aircraft. The purpose of this is to ensure aviation safety, by having law enforcement officials onboard. The marshals are equipped with guns, batons, and handcuffs. In order to ensure maximum effectiveness, the air marshals are dressed in plain clothes, mingling with other passengers to stay undercover. According to a 2005 report by USA Today, air marshals have the highest firearms standards of any US law enforcement agency. Additionally, an anonymous air marshal told USA Today “We aim toward the chest. You might put one or more (bullets) in the head to incapacitate the nervous system.”

Changes To The Program

As mentioned before, air marshals have traditionally been situated toward the front of aircraft. In an effort to provide a line of defence against cockpit intrusions, they have been working in teams. This is despite improved cockpit door designs which have been deemed sufficient in Europe. Now, however, the TSA reportedly wants to move air marshals to the rear of the aircraft. This will allow the marshals to keep a watch over the whole cabin, and spot any threats and unusual behaviour before it develops into an incident.

Air Marshal
Air marshals travel onboard American flights. Photo: United Airlines

Not Entirely Popular

The change hasn’t proved entirely popular. Critics of the change state that it may hamper the effectiveness of teams. The marshals could be stuck at the back, and unable to get to the cockpit in an emergency. Just imagine the logistical challenge of running the length of an aircraft while cabin crew are providing a catering service.

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TSA Response

TSA spokeswoman Jenny Burke told ABC: “[air marshals] continue to add a valuable layer of security to TSA’s overall effort to protect the entire global aviation system. In an effort to address evolving threats to aviation security, [the] TSA continues to optimize in-flight security efforts; training and tactics are routinely reviewed and updated based upon intelligence.” Ms Burke went on to add that for security reasons, details of tactics employed by air marshals are not released to the public.

Air Marshal
Air Marshals travel undercover. As such, you could be sat next to one without realising next time you travel. Photo: British Airways

Do you feel safer knowing air marshals are in the air? Do you think sitting at the back will hamper their effectiveness, let us know in the comments down below!

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Jerome Usheroff

I believe that an Air Marshall needs to be at the front of an aircraft to intercede any potential threat to the security of the aircraft. The security of the cockpit is their primary task. This cannot be done from the back of the aircraft. I don’t mean to be crass but the welfare of all the passengers are paramount over one or two passengers that might br potential hostages. In an ideal world, having two air Marshall’s would be ideal with one being at the front and the second one being at the back.

The Truth

FAMs were required back before 9/11. Since then cockpit doors have been hardened and many pilots are armed (FFDO). Overall security has been enhanced to the point that a FAM is no longer the last layer of security, they are much farther down the list. While I won’t say they are not needed, their role has transitioned from a protector of the cockpit to that of a basic “beat cop”. They are now there to stop the drunk. The real question is the billion dollar program worth stopping routine crimes? Would corporate airlines agree the problem is to such levels… Read more »