This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

The thought of a pilot being unable to defend themselves in the event of criminal activity can be a scary one. Are pilots allowed to carry guns?

Commercial pilots can carry guns only if they’ve completed the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program and have been granted the authority to do so. Pilots of private planes are allowed to carry guns at their own discretion, but they must follow all state and local guidelines anywhere they land.

Following the events of 9/11, the idea of pilots being able to carry weapons to defend themselves, the crew, and passengers came to fruition. In this article, you’ll learn about how pilots are able to carry guns once they become Federal Flight Deck Officers. We’ll also take a look into the Flight Deck Officer Program itself, what pilots have to tell passengers, and whether or not private pilots are allowed to carry weapons on their own planes.

At SkyTough, our number one priority is making sure that you get the most accurate information we can possibly give you. So to make sure everything in this article is accurate, we’ve combined our own knowledge and experience with research and discussions with other experts. Everything you read has been combed through to make sure that you’re only getting the best information out there.

Table of contents


Do Airline Pilots Carry Guns In The Cockpit?

No matter where you’re from in the country, or even the world, chances are good that you remember the events that took place on September 11, 2001. The World Trade Centers in New York City were attacked with hijacked passenger aircraft being used as weapons of mass destruction. These events showed a major flaw in airline security — that cockpits were not nearly as safe as it was thought that they were and that armed hijackers could easily overtake a cockpit if they got access to it.

While this certainly has been a question asked in the aviation world since before 2001, the events of 9/11 have made it much more prominent — do pilots carry guns?

If the pilots on board the planes that were hijacked on that fateful day had been carrying guns, there’s no telling what would’ve happened. Could they have subdued the hijackers? Could the entire attack have been thwarted? Or maybe nothing would have ended up differently at all, but it spurs the question of whether or not pilots can carry guns while flying.

The fact is,  these days pilots can carry guns while flying a plane. But that doesn’t mean that all pilots are carrying guns or that every flight you go on will have an armed pilot sitting up front in the cockpit. It comes down to whether or not the pilot has passed the required training and is licensed to carry a gun while flying.

The only commercial pilots that are allowed to carry a gun while flying are those that have completed the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.

What Is The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program?

The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program is a training program designed to train and certify commercial airline pilots to arm themselves in order to defend the aircraft at any time while on duty. An officer who completes this program is the only type of pilot that is legally allowed to carry a gun while on duty and flying a commercial passenger or cargo jet.

As alluded to above, this program was brought to fruition following the attacks on the World Trade Centers in September of 2001. As part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act was put into place. Under this guidance, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was instructed to develop a training program that would enable members of the flight crew (including pilots) to carry weapons to defend against criminals.

Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO) are actual members of law enforcement that are sworn in and made official officers by the Department of Homeland Security. So they have every right to act within the limits of the law when it comes to carrying a firearm on the aircraft that they’re flying and act within their jurisdiction. Which, in the case of an FFDO, is the flight deck and cabin of the aircraft that they’re flying.

How Many Federal Flight Deck Officers Are There?

If you like the idea of pilots carrying guns on planes as a way to protect the crew and passengers against potential criminal activity such as air piracy, then the FFDO Program likely sounds like a great idea. So does this mean that all pilots carry guns while flying? If not all, how many pilots do actually have a gun on them up there in the cockpit?

Well, that’s one of the interesting things about the FFDO Program. Nobody really knows how many FFDOs there are and how many pilots are actually carrying a gun. Sure, someone knows. But the government does not release that type of information to the public. So not only do you and I not know, but even the FFDOs themselves don’t know how many of them there are.

It is widely estimated that less than half of all airline pilots are licensed FFDOs and allowed to carry a gun on a plane. Some estimates even have it down closer to around 25% or so of commercial pilots. And then of that number, not all FFDOs have to carry a gun at all times and during everything flight. The reason that the government keeps the number of licensed FFDOs under wraps is that they don’t want potential criminals to know how many of them there are.

Even more so than the actual guns that the pilots are carrying, the threat of pilots carrying guns is an even bigger deterrent against criminals of the sky. If there is a chance that the pilots can open fire as soon as the cockpit is breached, potential criminals will think twice before trying to do so. So if the government released the official numbers for how many pilots are licensed to carry a gun, it would allow criminals to have an idea of their chances that any given flight is unarmed.

Do Airline Pilots Have To Tell The Passengers That They Have A Gun?

So even if we don’t know how many Federal Flight Deck Officers there are, do they at least let the passengers know if they’re carrying a gun during the flight? After all, maybe that would help the passengers feel a little safer and it might deter criminals on board. But the truth is, pilots do not have to inform passengers if they’re armed. In fact, they are not supposed to do so, for the same reasons of a deterrent as above.

Such a low percentage of pilots being licensed FFDOs might seem disconcerting if you were put at ease by the fact that pilots can carry guns. But keep in mind that the FFDO Program is open to all members of the flight deck crew, not just the pilots. So between both pilots flying a plane and the other members of the crew, chances are decent that at least one of them is carrying a gun during any given flight.

But it is not required. And it’s certainly not known. Nobody on the flight deck crew could be armed. Or everyone on the flight deck crew could be carrying a gun. The uncertainty is what helps keep the planes safe.

Can Private Pilots Carry A Gun On Their Own Plane?

If you’re a licensed pilot and you’re curious about whether or not you’re allowed to carry a gun on your own aircraft, it’s a much easier question to answer. The short answer is that yes, you can carry any legal weapon with you since it’s your own private aircraft. You don’t need to be a licensed FFDO to carry a weapon on your own plane, and we don’t think it’s a bad idea to do so!

You never know who or what you’re going to run into, or if you’ll have any issues during the flight and need to make an emergency landing. In either case, it might be a good idea to have a gun with you.

As a pilot though, you need to know the rules and regulations of the places where you’ll be taking off and landing from. Even if you’re allowed to have it on your plane federally, you still have to follow all local and state guidelines wherever you touch down when it comes to firearm possession. So make sure you read up on everything and make sure you’re not breaking any rules!