Flying on a plane is one of the safest ways to travel long distances. Federal Air Marshals flying shotgun on these planes is one of the biggest reason it’s safe for everyone on the flight. When there is an emergency or threat to passengers thousands of feet in the air, Federal Air Marshals are there to defend and assure their safety.

For over five decades, U.S. flagged aircraft have been under the protection of Federal Air Marshals. It began in 1934 after the first aircraft hijacking in Peru in 1931. 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered armed guards on select flights when threats against the aviation system became more and more apparent. It was then air marshals took on the responsibility of passengers’ safety and wellbeing. Every criminal or terrorist threat against the aviation system has air marshals as an elite defense.

It was on September 11, 2001, that the history of Federal Air Marshals changed forever. After the infamous terrorist attack against the United States shook the entire nation, the Bush Administration pushed for a massive and rapid expansion of the program. Before the attacks of 9/11, there were only 33 full-time Federal Air Marshals. One month after the life-altering attack, 600 air marshals were hired and trained to defend aircraft and protect the aviation system. Throughout the years the number of air marshals has grown to the thousands.

To ensure the safety of every flight, the air marshal program continued to change. Beginning in 2005, Federal Air Marshals became a part of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  The TSA and Federal Air Marshals worked together to provide security of U.S. commercial air flights and ensure the safety of passengers and crew members.

The duties of an air marshal go far beyond being an armed guard sitting on a plan and waiting for an attack against the aircraft. As a Federal Air Marshal, they are required to defend U.S. commercial aviation and U.S. commercial aviation interests in foreign countries. They can also make arrests, conduct and assist in criminal investigations and testify in court proceedings and work with other U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies.

Federal Air Marshals are the first line of defense on an aircraft in danger of being under criminal or terrorist attack. They protect passengers along with crew and give them a sense of safety while flying. Not only do they stop threats while the plane is in the air, but they also go through even greater lengths to prevent attacks prior to taking off. Federal Air Marshals have been and will continue to be essential to the safety of U.S. aircraft and aviation system.

Kelly Hoggan has over 30 years of experience in aviation security, operations, and technology. He is the founder and principle of H4 Solutions, which provides aviation security consulting.

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