WASHINGTON — The US Airways captain whose gun discharged in the cockpit of a plane landing in Charlotte , N.C., was fired by the airline and removed from the program that allows pilots to be armed, federal safety officials said Thursday.
"The individual is no longer a Federal Flight Deck Officer," Kip Hawley, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said after testifying at a House aviation subcommittee hearing.
Hawley wouldn’t say if investigators had decided the March incident was caused by pilot error.
“US Air fired the individual and one of the requirements of being involved is that you be employed with an air carrier, and since he’s not, he can’t be in the program anymore,” said Nelson Minerly, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, which administers the armed pilot program. “He was fired first. It effectively made him ineligible for the program and defacto removed.”
Minerly said the TSA’s internal affairs investigators haven’t completed their report on the matter.
Some industry activists have suggested that the design of the gun’s trigger lock and holster makes an accidental discharge possible. But Hawley said Thursday that wasn’t a contributing factor.
“That particular holster has flown over a million times without accident,” he said. “We believe the holster design was not the cause of that particular accident. It is something we look at and get feedback on and try to improve. But I do not believe that accident was caused by that particular holster.”
According to a Charlotte airport police report, the US Airways captain, James Langenhahn, was stowing his .40-caliber pistol when it discharged a bullet through the cockpit wall and fuselage. Nobody was injured on the March 22 flight from Denver carrying 124 passengers and five crew members when the gun fired about eight minutes before landing at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
TSA said that the discharge was the first since pilots were allowed to be armed in an effort to protect flights from the same fate of the Sept. 11 attacks, in which terrorists used airplanes as deadly weapons in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
One of the criticisms of the program is that pilots are required to remove their gun and holster and secure it in a bag before leaving the cockpit.
Langenhahn and spokesmen for US Airways and its pilots union did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
Capt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in written testimony Thursday to the House aviation subcommittee that “many thousands” of officers have gone through the training necessary to carry a gun in flight.