Sky marshal

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A sky marshal (also known as air marshal, flight marshal) is a covert law enforcement or counter-terrorist agent on board a commercial aircraft to counter aircraft hijackings. Sky marshals may be provided by airlines such as El Al (who provide sky marshals on every flight), or by government agencies such as the Austrian Einsatzkommando Cobra, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, German Federal Police, National Security Guard in India, Metropolitan Police SO18 (Aviation Security Operational Command Unit), Pakistan Airports Security Force or US Federal Air Marshal Service.


The history of in-flight security began in March 1962 when the US Federal Aviation Administration directed a program to combat airplane hijackings. In that same year alone, there were numerous airplane hijackings (all happening one after another) in the USA that were planned with the ultimate aim to fly to Cuba. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration created the title of FAA Peace Officer. FAA Peace Officers were the first people to ever provide armed security onboard commercial aircraft. The original 18 In-Flight Security Officers, currently known worldwide as IFSOs, were the predecessor to all current in-flight security programs that exist today.[1]


In response to the September 11, 2001, incidents, the Commonwealth instituted an Air Security Officer (ASO) Program under the Australian Federal Police in December 2001.[2][3] These officers are generally referred to in the media as Sky Marshals.[4] The ASO Programme provides a discreet anti-hijacking capability for Australian civil aviation by providing armed security personnel on board aircraft.[3] This involves both random and intelligence-led placement of armed ASOs on flights operated by Australian registered air carriers, on both domestic and international flights.

Officers are armed and trained and equipped for a variety of situations on both domestic and international flights.[5][6]


In Austria, armed air marshals are provided since 1981 by the Einsatzkommando Cobra.


The Canadian Air Carrier Protection/Protective Program (CACPP) began on September 17, 2002 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with Transport Canada, the authority responsible for Canadian aviation security, and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), for the implementation and administration of the CACPP. The program is conducted by specially trained undercover, armed RCMP officers (known as Aircraft Protective Officers- APOs) on selected domestic and international flights and all flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Pilots and flight attendants are advised of their presence and the officer will physically intervene should an unauthorized person attempt to gain control of an aircraft.[7] APOs, however, will not be involved in controlling unruly passengers.[8] While they are peace officers within Canadian territories, they rely on section 6(2) of the Tokyo Convention as a legal basis for intervening an incident outside of Canadian airspace.[8] By law, such officers are exempt from acquiring a permit for importing or exporting their duty firearms when crossing the border.[9] However, the exact nature of their weaponry is not released to the public except they are "deadly and effective and should not damage the aircraft."[10] The Canadian Forces Military Police members of the Canadian Forces Air Marshal Detail, are responsible for providing security to Canadian Forces aircraft, crew and passengers – passengers who may include the governor general, the prime minister and members of the royal family.[11]


Months after the September 11 attacks, private operators like Air Sahara introduced sky marshals in some of their flights and had plans to increase it.[needs update] Indian Airlines had previously started this in December 1999 after the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814.[12]

In 2003, Air India had an agreement with a US directive to have air marshals on all of its US-bound flights. They are recruited from India's elite commando force National Security Guard.[13]


Ireland does not have a dedicated sky marshal agency, although there is a National Civil Aviation Security Committee (NCASC). Limited capabilities are provided by the Garda Síochána Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the national police armed tactical unit, and backup may be provided by the counter-terrorism Garda Special Detective Unit (SDU) and the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) special forces unit in certain situations.[14][15]

The Irish government allows armed flight marshals from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Israel, Australia and specific European Union (EU) countries onboard international flights landing from or destined for those countries in Irish airspace, once they are informed of their presence beforehand. Weapons carried by an air marshal in Ireland include a concealed handgun, taser, knife and pepper spray.[16]


In Pakistan, armed sky marshals are deployed on all flights. Sky marshals are provided by Airports Security Force (ASF).

The ASF was established in 1976 under the Airports Security Force Act LXXVII of 1975 initially as the Directorate within the Department of Civil Aviation. After the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft in March 1981, sensing the contradictory requirements of security and facilitation, the Airports Security Force (ASF) was separated, and in December 1983, was placed under the folds of the Ministry of Defence.[17]


Singapore Airlines and Silkair deploy sky marshals in their flights. Such members are armed with firearms loaded with special ammunition and dart-firing stun gun.

Members are usually from either the Air Marshal Unit, the Security Command or the Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) of the Singapore Police Force. Members have undergone extensive training to enable them to operate effectively within the confines of an aircraft.

United Kingdom[edit]

An Armed Sky Marshal Program was begun in the United Kingdom in 2003 - in response to growing threats to Civilian Passenger Aircraft. The Metropolitan Police Service's Aviation Security Operational Command Unit (SO18) is tasked with operating the Sky Marshal Program, for which all Sky Marshals report to. The extent and size of the program is relatively unknown as few details are released to the media due to the sensitivity of the operation.[18]

United States[edit]

The US Federal Aviation Administration began its "Sky Marshal" program in 1968, which eventually became the FAA Federal Air Marshal Program in 1982; the program later became the Federal Air Marshal Service in January 2002 and after the handover of FAA security duties to the Transportation Security Administration.[1] In 2005, Rigoberto Alpizar was shot dead by two sky marshals on a jetway at Miami International Airport. Currently, Federal Air Marshal Officers are under the Transportation Security Administration. Under the Visible Intermodal Prevention Response (VIPR) system, started up circa 2005, federal air marshals (FAMs) began to patrol non-aviation sites like bus terminals and train stations.

Fictional references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Clay Biles (2013). The United States Federal Air Marshal Service: Fifty Years of Service : a Historical Perspective, 1962–2012. Clay Biles. ISBN 978-0-615-79900-1.
  2. ^ "Air Security Officers: Making our skies safe". Platypus. No. 99. Australian Federal Police. July 2008. p. 34. Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Budget 2002–2003: Counter Terrorism measures" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. 2002. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  4. ^ "Cost row hits sky marshals". The Age. 24 December 2003. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  5. ^ "Air Security Officers". Australian Federal Police. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  6. ^ "Up in arms". Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  7. ^ Gauthier, Marc-André (3 November 2008). "The Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program". RCMP Gazette. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 70 (3). Archived from the original on 26 June 2012.
  8. ^ a b "CACPP Presentation". APEC. 2004.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "SOR/2008-45: Export and Import Permits Act: Exemption Regulations (Persons)" (PDF). The Canada Gazette Part II. 142 (6): 400. 19 March 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2012.
  10. ^ "Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence". Government of Canada. 18 November 2002.
  11. ^ Poulin, Maj. Paule (27 January 2010). "Military Police train for VIP Aircraft Security Detail". Air Force News. RCAF. Archived from the original on 21 May 2013. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  12. ^ "Private airlines brace to meet hijack threats". The Times of India. 11 October 2001. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  13. ^ "A-I to comply with US norm". The Times of India. 30 December 2003. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  14. ^ O'Brien, Stephen (8 February 2004). "Brennan to reject US air marshal bid". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  15. ^ "Aer Lingus will comply with U.S. gun request". The Irish Echo. 16 February 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  16. ^ Cusack, Jim (24 November 2012). "Armed marshals likely on Irish planes". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  17. ^ "ASF Sky Marshalls: Proving themselves in a man's world". The Express Tribune.
  18. ^ "Armed air marshals for UK flights". 2003-02-14. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  19. ^ "Flight attendants hope to ground 'Flightplan'". Today. 29 September 2005. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  20. ^ Chitwood, Adam (November 8, 2012). "First Synopsis for Director Jaume Collet-Serra's NON-STOP Starring Liam Neeson". Collider. Retrieved December 11, 2012.

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