FAA seeks to recruit new air marshals

The Federal Aviation Agency kicked off a recruiting campaign today for more federal air marshals as part of its plan to increase airline security following last week's terrorist hijackings of commercial airliners. Last week's attacks, in which the airliners were used as weapons, killed more than 5,500 people in New York City and at the Pentagon. The job vacancy announcement for air marshals is online at http://jobs.faa.gov. Holly Baker, spokeswoman at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. where the air marshals are trained, said the agency already uses armed, plainclothes guards on some international and domestic flights to combat possible hijackings. Over the next several months, she said, the agency will expand that program by recruiting new marshals and using law enforcement officers from other federal agencies to patrol flights. "Federal air marshals respond to criminal incidents aboard U.S. air carriers, as well as other in-flight emergencies. [Marshals] are authorized to carry firearms and make arrests, while preserving the safety of air crew and passengers," states the job vacancy announcement. Additionally, the announcement says, marshals will travel domestically and internationally for up to several weeks at a time and will be on call 24 hour a day. While deployed, marshals are permitted limited contact with family and are given limited time off. "[Marshals] travel to and spend time in foreign countries that are sometimes politically or economically unstable, and may pose a high probability of terrorist or criminal activity against the U.S. government," the announcement says. Baker declined to say how many air marshals are already employed or how many more would be hired. "The FAA will not reveal the number or identity of marshals, the details of their training, nor the routes they fly. No one on board a flight will know when a marshal is present except for the pilot and flight crew…Federal marshals fly every day of the year," states an FAA fact sheet on the marshals program. Published reports, cited by the Washington Post, say there are currently about 30 to 50 air marshals. In contrast, more than 2,000 flights were in the air at the time of last week's hijackings. Baker said the marshals are trained in Atlantic City and other sites across the country. The marshals' training facilities include three different outdoor firing ranges with moving targets, a 360-degree live-fire shoothouse configured as both a wide- and narrow-body aircraft, interactive air traffic control towers and retired wide-and narrow-body aircraft. "The program is based on minimal force, but that force can be lethal," states a fact sheet. According to the job announcement, candidates must be 37 years of age or younger and U.S. citizens, although federal law enforcement officers may be exempt from the age requirement. All applicants for the program must first pass psychological screening and fitness testing before entering marshal training. Marshals will be subject to random drug tests and annual physicals. Since April, federal marshals have been using a new pay system, known as pay banding, which replaces narrow General Schedule pay categories with wider, more flexible pay scales. Annual salaries for marshals range from $35,100 to $80,800.
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