At a meeting Wednesday with survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, their parents and family members of victims of other school shootings, President Trump claimed that “a lot” of airline pilots carry guns and the skies are safer because of it.

“You know a lot of people don’t understand that a lot of airline pilots now — a lot of them carry guns,” Trump said. “And … I have to say that things have changed a lot. People aren’t attacking the way they would routinely attack, and maybe you have the same situation in schools.”

He then turned the conversation to the possibility of arming teachers or other school employees to prevent the type of attack that struck Parkland, where 17 people were killed in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

“So, does anybody like that idea here?”

For many, the claim that some airline pilots were armed came as a shock. Some asked whether it was true, while others expressed surprise that commercial pilots would be armed.

Trump’s claim that pilots carry guns likely refers to the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, the post-9/11 initiative that equipped some crew members in airline cockpits with firearms. The program was meant to prevent hijackings like those that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. There also is the Federal Air Marshal Service, the agency charged with patrolling the skies. The agency existed before the terrorist attacks but was rapidly expanded in their wake.

So what about Trump’s claim that “a lot” of pilots are armed?

Well, it depends on your definition of “a lot.” For one, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program is a volunteer program, not a mandatory requirement for pilots. The firearms aboard the aircraft are meant as a deterrent for hijackers, and they’re not allowed to leave the cockpit of the plane. The training is administered through the Federal Air Marshals program.

“Since 2003, TSA authorized federal flight deck officers are trained to use force to guard against individuals attempting to gain control of the flight deck of an aircraft,” according to the Transportation Security Administration website.

A TSA official, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the program allows certain pilots and officers to carry firearms, but the purpose is to secure the cockpit so the plane can land. It should never impact cabin operations or enter the cabin at all, the individual said. For that reason, it wouldn’t have any impact on cabin safety, where the majority of issues concern customer service.

Cabin crews are trained in self-defense by the Air Marshals, but they don’t carry firearms.

“So if there’s some problem in aisle 17, the pilot is not allowed to leave the cockpit with his gun,” the TSA official said.

As for Trump’s claim that people “aren’t attacking the way they would routinely attack,” airline hijackings in the United States have fallen sharply since the 1960s and 1970s. But there is no evidence pointing toward the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, instituted in 2003, as the reason.

A 2016 USA Today story on the decline of airline hijackings — with no plane hijackings recorded in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001 — credited a variety of changes made in the wake of the attacks for the recent boost in airline safety:

The use of passenger jets as bombs at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., spurred measures to harden and lock cockpit doors to protect pilots from terrorists.
The Sept. 11th hijackers who took control of the planes were armed with box cutters, allowed in carry-on bags at the time. Today, such items are no longer permissible in the cabin. Passengers and luggage are now scrutinized much more thoroughly for guns and bombs and other weapons.