Transportation Law: Air Transportation: Airports & Airways
It is a federal offense to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft. It is also a federal offense to attempt to board an aircraft with weapons or explosives. A defendant commits either of these offenses when he or she: (1) boards or attempts to board an aircraft while possessing on his or her person or property a deadly or a dangerous weapon, which weapon is concealed and which weapon could be accessible to him or her in flight; (2) places or attempts to place aboard any aircraft a loaded firearm in his or her baggage or in any other property that is not accessible to him or her in flight; or (3) places or attempts to place aboard an aircraft any bomb or similar explosive or incendiary device.
The offenses of carrying or attempting to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft do not require a specific intent. In other words, a defendant does not need to intend to carry a deadly or a dangerous weapon in order to be guilty of the offense. However, one federal court has ruled that the government should prove that the defendant should have known that the weapon or explosive was in his or her possession while he or she was boarding the aircraft in order to be guilty of the offenses.
In order to prove the offenses of carrying or attempting to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft, the government must prove that a defendant concealed the weapons or the explosives. The government does not need to prove that the defendant intended to conceal the weapons or the explosives. If the weapons or the explosives are hidden from view, they are considered to be concealed for purposes of these offenses.
In order to prove the offense of attempting to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft, the government must also show that the defendant intended to board the aircraft. Such intent is proven when the defendant has surrendered his or her ticket to an airline employee and when the defendant has entered a departure area.
The offenses of carrying or attempting to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft are normally punished as a misdemeanor. However, the offenses may be upgraded to a felony if a defendant committed either offense willfully and without regard for the safety of human life.
The offenses of carrying or attempting to carry weapons or explosives on an aircraft do not apply to any officer or employee of the United States government who is authorized or who is required to carry a weapon in his or her official capacity.
The Federal Aviation Administration's screening procedures for boarding an aircraft have resulted in a large number of individuals having been discovered with concealed weapons while attempting to board an aircraft. Most of these individuals have no prior criminal record and have no intent to use the weapons in order to commit an offense on the aircraft. Some of these individuals are even licensed to carry the weapons. As a result, the federal government generally only prosecutes aggravated cases. Such aggravated cases include cases where an individual has attempted to avoid detection of the concealed weapons by obvious and deliberate means, where an individual intended to use the concealed weapon in the commission of an offense, or where the weapon is an explosive or an incendiary device. The federal government generally chooses not to prosecute individuals who possess valid licenses to carry a concealed weapon, who have no serious criminal records, and who possess items that are used for noncriminal purposes and that only have a slightly deadly or dangerous character. These types of offenses are generally referred to state and local authorities for prosecution. However, the federal government is also entitled to seek civil penalties against those individuals. The government usually refers those cases to the Federal Aviation Administration for appropriate civil action.
Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.