I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, but the fatal shooting by Federal Air Marshals of a man who claimed to have a bomb on board an American Airlines jet in Miami yesterday has many hand-wringers questioning the entire Air Marshal program.
All the facts are not in, and I completely support a full investigation. However, we do know a bit about this story right now. Rigoberto Alpizar ran through the plane before it pushed back from the gate. He stated that he had a bomb in his backpack. He ignored orders from two Marshals to put the backpack down and lie on the ground and, instead, reached into the backpack. And they did shoot and kill him.
I can't even imagine the stress the Air Marshals were under during the incident. But, all indications right now are that they followed their training to the letter.
We don't know how many Air Marshals are out there, and we don't know how many flights they're on (this secrecy is part of the deterrent and I have absolutely zero problems with it). It is, however, safe to say that there are many Marshals flying on many flights every day, and that this has been the case every day since early 2002 at least. In that time, there have been no (that is, NOT ONE) incident of deadly force being exercised by the Marshals up until yesterday. This makes it clear to me that Air Marshals are well trained, professional, calm, and restrained. They are clearly not a bunch of psychos running around, drawing down on every disgruntled flyer who complains about his/her seat assignment.
The other fact that cannot be disputed is that, since Sept 11, 2001, there has not been a successful incident of terrorism on any domestic flight.
I don't think that AQ and their little buddies have given up. I do think that the combination of deterrents, one of which is the Air Marshal program, is working.
Let's investigate this tragic incident, by all means. We need to know what happened here, and we need to learn whatever lessons are to be found. However, let's not call for the end or the emasculation of a program that is clearly working as intended.