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At first glance, these statutes seem to be very broad and all encompassing. However, definitions of “air transportation” and “intrastate air transportation” as defined in 49 USC §40102 limit applicability of these statutes to air carriers. What is an air carrier? It is an individual or business who provides transportation for hire either between two states or within one state using a turbojet aircraft with more than 30 seats. Practically speaking, these definitions limit applicability of this statute to airlines and charter operators who are either flying between states or operating larger, turbojet aircraft.
U.S. Statute 49 CFR §1550.7 is a more specific “catch-all” that applies to aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds and where aircraft’s operation is not otherwise subject to statutes and regulations addressed above. This regulation requires that an operator “must conduct a search of aircraft before departure and screen passengers, crewmembers, and other persons and their accessible property (carry-on items) before boarding”, regardless of whether boarding and loading occurs from a sterile area.
Another regulation that affects your ability to carry a firearm on a flight operated by a charter operator is 14 CFR §135.119. Under this regulation “no person may, while on board an aircraft being operated by a certificate holder, carry on or about that person a deadly or dangerous weapon, either concealed or unconcealed. Section 135.119 does not apply to LEO’s or to “Crewmembers and other persons authorized by certificate holder to carry arms”. Thus, although this regulation appears to limit possession of firearms, if charter operator grants you permission, either directly or within its operations specifications, you would be exempt from this regulation and able to carry firearms subject to any other applicable statutes or regulations.
Finally, if you are flying in a private aircraft that is not being operated by a common carrier from one state to another, and no other statutes apply to your flight, you will still be subject to 18 USC §926A regarding interstate transportation of firearms which states that “any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation firearm is unloaded, and neither firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle”.
This statute allows you to transport firearms between states subject to statute’s conditions: that you can lawfully possess firearm at your points of departure and arrival, and firearm is unloaded and inaccessible during trip. However, what if you are a CCW permit holder and you want to carry concealed between states? Well, fortunately 18 USC §927 states that Section 926A does not pre-empt applicable state law. Thus, if you can lawfully carry a concealed weapon in state in which you board aircraft and in state in which you land, you are not subject to unloaded and inaccessible restrictions of Section 926A.
For operations of private aircraft within one state, you will only be subject to laws of state within which you are operating. You will need to review your state’s statutes to determine whether they impose any restrictions on possession of firearms within non-sterile areas of airports. You will also need to be familiar with airports you will be visiting to determine whether each airport has any restrictions (e.g. posting to prohibit concealed carry etc.).
What does all this mean? Well, for majority of people traveling on commercial aircraft, ability to transport firearms on aircraft is severely restricted. In almost all cases, unless you are flying in a private aircraft, carrying firearms with you on an aircraft, either on your person or in your carry-on luggage, is prohibited.
You may still bring firearms and ammunition with you on a flight, but they will need to be unloaded and contained in a locked case within your checked luggage in compliance with your airline or aircraft operator’s policies. Your best bet is to check with your airline or aircraft operator ahead of time to make sure you know and can comply with their policies for transporting firearms. With a little planning and preparation, it can be done.
If you are flying on a charter aircraft that weighs less than 12,500 pounds, you can only carry firearms with operator’s permission and as long as you can lawfully do so at both your departure and arrival airports.
For those of you who fly in private aircraft and carry firearms with you, knowing areas at an airport within which you can and cannot possess a firearm will help you avoid accepting a clearance or taxiing to an area within which possession of firearms is prohibited. So long as you remain outside of airport sterile areas, your possession of firearms will only be subject to laws of state in which you are flying.
As always, fly safe and, especially if you are carrying firearms, fly smart.
Greg is an aviation attorney, author and holds a commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating. His practice concentrates on aviation litigation, including insurance matters and creditor’s rights, FAA certificate actions and aviation related transactional matters. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website at www.aerolegalservices.com.