California Highway Patrol officers are now permitted to carry guns onboard airplanes in an effort to increase air safety.

The “Safe Skies” program – proposed by Gov. Gray Davis and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration on March 6 – will allow CHP officers flying within California to carry their weapons on the flight. The FAA has been training officers on different methods to provide security on flights since Feb. 11. CHP Public Affairs Officer Jarod Primicerio said the program is expected to be fully operational by March.

Training is mandatory for all CHP officers, but the program is on a volunteer basis and officers are never required to carry a gun onboard an airplane.

“The program is geared to utilize officers who are on-duty, but volunteers can also choose to participate when they are traveling for pleasure within California,” Primicerio said.

Davis spokesperson Russ Lopez said the governor proposed the program last fall in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Lopez said the program is a way California can further protect its citizens.

“After Sept. 11, Gov. Davis and his administration looked at our current security and tried to fill in any holes. California already had a strong anti-terrorist task force. We were already ahead of the game,” he said. “After Sept. 11 we looked to further our current plans and realized we were strong but we can always be stronger.”

The FAA will also train officers in weaponless security techniques, Primicerio said.

“Use of a firearm on an aircraft by these officers will be the absolute last resort,” he said. “CHP officers will be trained on other equipment, but we can’t comment on the nature of that training or equipment for security reasons.”

The government is aware of the risks associated with allowing guns on aircraft, Lopez said.

“There’s a lot of ways passengers can be protected without the use of guns. Guns will not necessarily be used,” he said. “The governor, the CHP and the FAA are all well aware of the risk. They emphasize these CHP officers will be on the flights protecting the passengers, not endangering them.”

Lopez said Davis intended for the program to begin last fall, but postponed it at President Bush’s request.

“The governor has been wanting this since Sept. 11. He was held back because President Bush had asked him to, so they could make sure everything was set,” he said. “We also had to wait and see how the CHP officers were going to receive their training and certification.”

Lopez said there will be “no cost involved” for taxpayers because the program is on a volunteer basis and training is funded by the FAA.

Davis intends for the program to help the airline industry as well as the economy, Lopez said.

“I think most people will feel more secure about flying with this program,” he said. “The better they feel about flying, the more they will fly.”