German gun maker wins TSA contract to arm airline pilots

The Transportation Security Administration has selected the German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch to supply the .40-caliber semiautomatic handguns the agency will use to train and arm commercial airline pilots.

A company spokesman confirmed the contract award Friday. TSA notified bidders by fax late Thursday. TSA officials were unable to comment as of Friday afternoon.

Although losing bidders may still file a protest, the award caps a procurement effort that proved troublesome for TSA, which ran afoul of leading handgun manufacturers in its attempt to buy handguns for its next class of pilots, scheduled to begin Sunday.

CongressDaily reported Wednesday that gun makers who expected "full and open competition" complained that TSA appeared to bow to congressional and other outside pressures at different stages of the process by favoring certain handgun manufacturers over others. Protests by the Italian firm Beretta and other companies prompted TSA on June 12 to open the competition industry-wide and push back various deadlines and delivery dates.

TSA spokesman Robert Johnson adamantly denied in an interview earlier this week that the procurement process contributed to a delay in the summer training classes. The agency has been under pressure from Congress to accelerate the arming of commercial pilots under the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act enacted last November.

TSA's Federal Flight Deck Officers program allows pilots to volunteer for firearms training and become certified law enforcement officers, authorized to use a handgun to defend their cockpits from hostile intruders.

Potential bidders for the gun contract had been told by TSA that the agency wanted to buy as many as 9,600 handguns through fiscal 2006. The H&K spokesman said the model chosen was the company's USP Compact .40-LEM firearm, which are made in Oberndorf, Germany, and shipped to the U.S. distribution center in Sterling, Va.

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