Exclusive investigation for Daily Mail Online using data from an FOIA to the TSA. Read it here
Only one air marshal a week actually deals with a disruptive passenger on a flight over the United States – but the TSA still spends a reported $800million a year on them.
An investigation by the Daily Mail Online has found the federal officers stationed on planes have responded to situations in the air just 164 times since 2012.
Air marshals usually work alone. There are roughly 196,000 commercial flights in the U.S. every week and 4,000 working air marshals.
The number of incidents in the air has been steadily increasing in recent years, but critics are questioning why taxpayers are still paying so much to put marshals on flights when they are hardly ever needed.
Congress has slammed the program as wasteful and unnecessary, while members of the House Oversight Committee have called for it to be eliminated.
An investigation by the Daily Mail Online found just one air marshal has to deal with a disruptive passenger on flights across the United States ever week. The federal officers (pictured) have had to respond to situations 30,000ft in the air just 164 times since 2012
In 2012, a year after the number of marshals spiked following 9/11, there were only 12 reported incidents on flights.
In 2013 there were 51, and in 2014 there were 74 – a rate of one incident every five days.
In the first four months of 2015, there were only 15 investigations.
Records of the number of times marshals had to act on flights were released to Daily Mail Online following a Freedom of Information request.
The TSA provided a long list of investigations that looked into why the officers had to intervene, but every detail except the date had been redacted.
They would not say why the air marshals had to act. They also said that because of national security, they could not say how many are were employed by the government.
Even though incidents on flights are rare, there are still scuffles that could prove dangerous to passengers if there wasn’t someone to intervene.
In December, American Airlines flight attendant Joanne Snow allegedly attacked fellow crew members and two US air marshals during a trans-Atlantic flight.
But the program has been slammed by politicians and key figures in the airline industry.
Former Continental Airlines CEO and chairman Gordon Bethune and his colleague American Airlines chairman Bob Crandall shared their mutual disdain for the TSA’s initiative last year, saying it is the ‘biggest waste of money we have going in the country today’.
Critics have questioned why taxpayers are still paying an estimated $800million a year for the TSA (headquarters pictured) program while Congress has slammed it as wasteful and unnecessary
In a statement to Daily Mail Online, a TSA spokesman said: ‘The mission of the TSA Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service (OLE/FAMS) is to detect, deter and defeat terrorist or criminal activity in the US transportation domain.
‘During the course of performing their duties, our employees may be involved in incidents that would subsequently require an activity report to be completed.
‘These incidents could range from non-criminal security actions, medical response, criminal actions and terrorist activity. The OLE/FAMS uses a risk-based Concept of Operations to deploy its workforce on US air carriers worldwide.
The spokesman added: ‘While the FAMS can not comment on the specific number of Federal Air Marshals for security reasons, it can be said that their are thousands of men and women who fly domestic air carriers.’
A Federal Air Marshal’s job is to blend with passengers on flights. They are highly skilled marksman and among the best trained agents employed by the government.
They were introduced by John F. Kennedy in 1961 and initially acted as security officers on high-risk flights.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Federal Air Marshal Service consisted of varying numbers of FAMs dependent on government funding. Although 50 positions were authorized by Congress, only 33 FAMs were active on 09/11/01.
As a result of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered the rapid expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Immediately after the attacks, then Director Greg McLaughlin, was tasked with hiring and training 600 air marshals in a one-month period.
A classified number of applicants were later hired, trained, and deployed on flights around the world.
As of August 2013, this number was estimated to be approximately 4,000.