WASHINGTON — The design of the holsters that armed commercial pilots use to stow their weapons increases the likelihood of accidental discharge, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security has concluded.
The investigators recommended that the Transportation Security Administration discontinue the use of the locking holster and consider other ways for armed pilots, known as Federal Flight Deck Officers, to secure their weapons.
"We examined the holster and observed that its design renders the weapon vulnerable to accidental discharges if improperly handled," the Office of Inspector General said as part of a broader report it issues to Congress twice a year.
The investigation followed a March incident on a USAirways flight that was approaching Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. The .40-caliber pistol carried by Capt. James Langenhahn discharged a bullet through the cockpit wall and fuselage, but none of the 124 passengers or five crew members was injured.
Langenhahn was fired over the incident, but he said his case is in arbitration right now.
"There's still litigation on this, I really can't comment," he said Monday. "It's kind of a delicate situation right now."
But of the inspector general report, he acknowledged, "I would tend to think it's favorable" for his case.
TSA hasn't released an incident report on the March 22 accident. It has repeatedly stood by the design of the holster and hinted at pilot error.
"The locking holsters … have been safely handled by Federal Flight Deck Officers millions of times since October 2006 when the holsters were put into service," the agency said Monday in a statement. "When handled in accordance with FFDO program policies and procedures the locking holster system meets program safety, security and tactical accessibility requirements."
However, it did say the agency is now reviewing "new holster systems that meet program safety, security and tactical accessibility requirements."
The inspector general's office, which operates independently from the agency, said that light lateral pressure — six to seven pounds — on the padlock could make the gun go off accidentally when inserting it into the holster.
"In a darkened cockpit, under the stress of meeting the operational needs of the aircraft, a pilot could inadvertently discharge the weapon by failing to ensure it is properly seated in the holster, securing the trigger lock, and then pushing the weapon inward to secure the holster snap," the inspectors' report said.
"We recommended that given the distracting environment and potential low light of an aircraft cockpit, the FFDOs' weapon locking system should be simple and forgiving and that TSA should discontinue the use of the locking holster and consider other methods for FFDO to secure their weapons."
Some pilots groups have argued for changes in the procedures that pilots must follow when stowing and transporting their guns. ON THE WEB The Report