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Pilot sidelined after his gun goes off on jet

A US Airways pilot whose gun discharged in-flight is on leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the company and federal authorities.

The incident on a Denver to Charlotte, N.C., flight Saturday was the first of its kind since a federal program allowing pilots to carry guns began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Officials with the Tempe-based airline aren’t providing details about the incident on Flight 1536 except to say the gun accidentally discharged and no one was injured. The plane was removed from service.

US Airways spokesman Philip Gee would not disclose the pilot’s name and base.

Given the route and that the flight operations of US Airways and America West remain separate despite the airlines’ merger in 2005, the pilot must be based on the East Coast, not Phoenix.

The federal Transportation Security Administration began investigating as soon as the plane landed, spokesman Dwayne Baird said.

He said the agency is working with US Airways and that the FBI likely will be involved.

“There will be lots of facets of this investigation to determine the cause,” Baird said. “They’re going to interview everyone that was involved, everyone that was aware of it.”

Baird said it was his understanding passengers on the flight were unaware of the incident.

Even though security officials are handling the investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration will want to inspect the plane, spokesman Ian Gregor said.

“We’d probably want to take a look at the plane at some point and make sure that the bullet didn’t cause any harm to it,” such as piercing the fuselage or affecting critical systems, Gregor said.

Pilots are authorized to carry guns under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.

Pilots who volunteer must complete a one-week training program in New Mexico, among other steps, to get licensed.

The Web site for the program says pilots are trained on “the use of firearms, use of force, legal issues, defensive tactics, the psychology of survival and program standard operating procedures.”

The pilots are not paid for participation.

They must pass biannual firearms re-qualification activities on their own time and at their expense.

Participating pilots are allowed to disengage the locking device on the government-issued gun only when they are in the cockpit with the door closed, pilots said.

Baird would not disclose how many pilots are licensed, saying it was classified information.

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