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Norway to Allow Armed Guards On Board Aircraft Bound for US and Israel

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The Norwegian Airports company, Avinor, announced today that Norway will, for the first time, allow armed guards onboard flights destined to the US and Israel, and passengers’ concerns on the decision taken by the Ministry of Transport.

“European countries allow armed guards on board foreign aircraft, and now Norway is also open to this as a trial,” explains Transport Minister Ketil Solvik Olsen. “The government’s decision is taken with regard to safety on board and the practice established for air traffic in several countries.”

In its announcement, Avinor explains that this trial will be limited to flights on US aircraft between the US and Norway, and Israeli aircraft between Israel and Norway.  The trial will last three years, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether an extension of this policy is warranted.

When the ministry issued the announcement this June 27, it underlined that these measures were not considered necessary onboard Norwegian flights at this time.

The airport company also explains that the use of armed guards will be in accordance with the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines, and that the program will be managed day to day by the police who will cooperate with the CAA to develop weapons-handling procedures while the aircraft is on the ground.

It also addresses concerns from Norwegian travellers about taking flights on which In-Flight Security Officers (IFSOs) may be present as follows:

Q: Why would we need an IFSO onboard a plane?

A: The use of weapons on board aircraft is serious can lead to aviation safety challengers.  Some countries have assessed the risks of having an IFSO onboard against the risks of hijacking and intentional crashing of planes and concluded that IFSOs are necessary to manage these risks.

Q: How are IFSOs trained? 

A: An IFSO is trained to handle situations both with and without the use of weapons and recruited among personnel with police and defence backgrounds.  Overall, this reduces the risk of accidental shots fired onboard the aircraft considerably.  Additionally, this reduces the risk of an arm guard being disarmed.

Q: Aren’t weapons and ammunition onboard aircraft dangerous?

A: The weapons and ammunition used by IFSO are chosen such that they will cause as little harm as possible to the aircraft in the unlikely event that they have to use the weapons in flight.  The use of weapons is considered a last resort to solve a critical situation.

Q: Who’s in charge onboard an aircraft when there is an IFSO present?

A: At all times the commander (pilot) has command onboard the aircraft, even when an IFSO is present.  Only under extraordinary situations may an IFSO intervene to avert what he estimates to be a dangerous situation without the permission of the commander, for instance when there is no time to obtain such permission.

Q: Can an armed guard intervene with unruly passengers who create insecurity onboard?

A: IFSOs will not initially handle unruly passengers because this behaviour can be a diversion to reveal the identity of the armed guard.

Norway has strict regulations on firearms under the Firearm Weapons Act (link out in Norwegian), but it also has a large population of hunters and a tradition of shooting competitions as sport.

Individuals granted license to carry firearms must qualify based on strict licensing requirements and the types of firearms typically licensed are semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles, or shotguns, expressly intended for use in hunting.

Handguns are restricted by calibre and it is rare for a person to obtain license to use a weapon as self-defence–unless they have a job as a trained guard or are part of law-enforcement.

It is not particularly remarkable that IFSOs will be present on flights originating from or destined for the US and Israel.  The practice is well established, and after the attacks of 9/11 became wide-spread. But, until now, IFSOs have not been admitted on flights with Norway as their point of origin or destination.

Neither the statement from the Ministry nor from Avinor gives reasons for the change in policy.

Featured Image of Oslo Airport Duty Free/Avinor

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