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Sky marshal

A sky marshal is a covert law enforcement or counter-terrorist agent on board a commercial aircraft to counter aircraft hijackings. Such an agent is also known as an air marshal, a flight marshal, or an in-flight security officer (IFSO).[1][2] 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 SO19 (Specialist Firearms Command) from London, 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 (FAA) directed a program to combat airplane hijackings. In that same year, there were numerous airplane hijackings in the United States that were planned with the ultimate aim to fly to Cuba. In response, the FAA created the title of FAA peace officer. FAA peace officers were the first people to provide armed security onboard commercial aircraft.


In response to the September 11 attacks, the commonwealth instituted an air security officer (ASO) program under the Australian Federal Police in December 2001.[3][4] These officers are generally referred to in the media as "sky marshals".[5] The ASO Program provides a discreet anti-hijacking capability for Australian civil aviation by putting armed security personnel on board aircraft.[4] 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, trained and equipped for a variety of situations on both domestic and international flights.[6][7]


In Austria, armed air marshals have been 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 in the United States. Pilots and flight attendants are advised of their presence and the officer is authorized to physically intervene should an unauthorized person attempt to gain control of an aircraft.[8] APOs, however, will not get involved in controlling unruly passengers.[9] While they are peace officers within Canadian territories, they rely on section 6(2) of the Tokyo Convention as a legal basis for intervening in an incident outside of Canadian airspace. By law, such officers are exempt from acquiring a permit for importing or exporting their duty firearms when crossing the border.[10] 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".[11] 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.[12]


Sky marshals were introduced by Indian Airlines in December 1999, following the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in Kandahar.[13] Following the September 11 attacks, private operators like Air Sahara also introduced sky marshals on some flights and stated plans to increase these.[needs update]

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.[14] Ipsita Biswas of India's Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) were developing frangible bullets which shatter if they hit a substance that is harder than the bullet is. The application would allow their sky marshals to use these bullets to shoot, or threaten to shoot, hijackers on board aircraft, with the assurance that the aircraft itself would not suffer substantial damage.[15]


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 the Garda Special Detective Unit (SDU) and the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) special forces unit in certain situations.[16][17]

The Irish government allows armed flight marshals from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Israel, Australia and specific European Union 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.[18]


Undercover agents carrying concealed firearms sit among the passengers on every international El Al flight.[19] Most El Al pilots are former Israeli Air Force pilots.[20][a] The cockpits in all El Al aircraft have double doors to prevent entry by unauthorized persons. A code is required to access the doors, and the second door will open only after the first has closed and the person has been identified by the captain or first officer.[20] Furthermore, there are reinforced steel floors separating the passenger cabin from the baggage hold.[21]

In April 2013, the Israeli government increased payments to El Al to secure 97.5% of the airline's security costs ahead of the Open Skies agreement to take effect in 2014 with the European Union.[22]


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 ASF was separated, and, in December 1983, was placed under the folds of the Ministry of Defence.[23]


Singapore Airlines deploys sky marshals on its flights. Such members are armed with firearms loaded with special ammunition and dart-firing stun guns.

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

An armed Air Marshal program began operating in the United Kingdom in 2002, it was in response to growing threats to civilian passenger aircraft. The Metropolitan Police Service Specialist Firearms Command SO19 is tasked with operating the Aircraft Protection Operations (APO) Program, for which all UK Air 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.[24]

United States

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.[25] 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 around 2005, federal air marshals began to patrol non-aviation sites like bus terminals and train stations.

Fictional references

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Most, but not all, El Al's pilots are former pilots of the Israeli Air Force. An article dedicated to an El Al female captain can be found at "With Yom Haatzmaut Festivities, a Gender Barrier Is Broken", The Sisterhood, The Forward.


  1. ^ Clay Biles. How to Stop a Hijacking: Critical Thinking in Civil Aviation Security.
  2. ^ "International In-flight Security Officer Committee". International In-flight Security Officer Committee. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ a b "Budget 2002–2003: Counter Terrorism measures" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. 2002. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  5. ^ "Cost row hits sky marshals". The Age. 24 December 2003. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  6. ^ "Air Security Officers". Australian Federal Police. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  7. ^ "Up in arms". Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  8. ^ Gauthier, Marc-André (3 November 2008). "The Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program". RCMP Gazette. 70 (3). Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Archived from the original on 26 June 2012.
  9. ^ "CACPP Presentation". APEC. 2004.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ "Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence". Government of Canada. 18 November 2002.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Private airlines brace to meet hijack threats". The Times of India. 11 October 2001. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  14. ^ "A-I to comply with US norm". The Times of India. 30 December 2003. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  15. ^ Sharma, Aakriti (2019-05-23). "Meet Ipsita Biswas, scientist who developed non-lethal plastic bullets". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  16. ^ O'Brien, Stephen (8 February 2004). "Brennan to reject US air marshal bid". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on May 4, 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  17. ^ "Aer Lingus will comply with U.S. gun request". The Irish Echo. 16 February 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  18. ^ Cusack, Jim (24 November 2012). "Armed marshals likely on Irish planes". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  19. ^ "El Al sets security standards". 2002-07-05. Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  20. ^ a b " - Model for air travel security may be El Al - September 26, 2001". 2007-06-24. Archived from the original on 24 June 2007. Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  21. ^ Silver, Eric (2006-08-15). "Flying under the eagle eyes of El Al's famed high security". New Zealand Herald.
  22. ^ "Israel Increases El Al Security Payments To End Strike Over Open Skies Deal | The Jewish Week". 2013-05-01. Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  23. ^ "ASF Sky Marshalls: Proving themselves in a man's world". The Express Tribune.
  24. ^ "Armed air marshals for UK flights". 2003-02-14. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "Flight attendants hope to ground 'Flightplan'". Today. 29 September 2005. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  27. ^ 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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Sky marshal
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