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Air Marshal

Education and Training: Bachelor’s degree in a law enforcement-related field
Average Salary: $25,642 to $92,127 per year
Job Outlook: Good

Air marshals play an important role in security. They work alongside other law enforcement agencies in order to accomplish their primary mission, which is to detect, restrain, and stop hostile acts that target US aircrafts, airports, crew members, and passengers.

While in the airport, air marshals are expected to canvass and search the crowd for suspicious-looking people and activities. They routinely meet and secure the weapons of air marshals from other countries who are flying into the United States on international flights. In dealing with airport security matters, they also work with other local law enforcement agencies.

There are usually two air marshals for domestic flights and four marshals for international flights. While in flight, air marshals typically sit near the flight deck because their main task is to protect the flight crew in any way they can. Because of the terrorism that occurred on September 11, 2001, the door of the flight deck is now always locked. Air marshals observe foot traffic near the deck. They try to blend in with other passengers and keep a low profile. In fact, they should be able to maintain security without others realizing it. Air marshals must be able to immediately spot terrorist activity using their advanced investigation techniques.

When they are not on a mission, air marshals spend at least once a week in training. Here, they undergo flight simulations, get procedural updates, and do weapons drills.

Education and Training Requirements

All air marshal candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement-related fields such as criminal justice. Those without a college degree should hold at least three years of relevant experience such as doing investigative work for a law enforcement agency. Some applicants supplement their work experience with higher education, such as a master’s degree, while a few even take a doctorate degree.

To be an air marshal, candidates have to finish a two-phase training program in either the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) academy located in Atlanta City, New Jersey or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center situated in Artesia, New Mexico. Each phase lasts for around seven weeks.

Phase one of the air marshal training occurs in a classroom setting. Also known as the Basic Police Training Program, it includes formal classroom training and simulation for all federal law enforcement candidates. Courses include behavior observation, criminal psychology, physical workouts, safety drills, and marksmanship.

Phase two of the training is more specialized and focuses on the requirements of the Air Marshal Service. Here, trainees learn about air safety procedures, self-defense, firearms training, first aid, arrest procedures, and international laws. Since they have to function in a limited space inside an airplane, air marshal trainees must hone their marksmanship skills. In fact, the Air Marshal Service has the toughest qualification course for marksmanship among all federal law enforcement agencies.

Getting the Job

The minimum education requirement for an air marshal position is a high school diploma. However, you will have better chances of getting hired if you earn a bachelor’s degree. Choose courses that are related to the field such as criminal law, criminal justice, or crime analysis. On top of a bachelor’s degree, those who have a master’s degree find that some of the requirements may be waived and they get a higher starting pay.

Read about the requirements for the position and determine if you are eligible. You have to be a citizen of the United States and a resident. Also, the age requirement is 37, but this may be waived if you already have previous experience in federal law enforcement.

It would be beneficial to you if you acquire at least three years of work experience in investigative work, public administration, or law enforcement. If you have technical expertise in aviation-related law enforcement and crime investigation, you will step up your chances of getting hired as an air marshal.

If you’re really intent on being an air marshal, go to the website of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for instructions regarding application for the said position. Included in the screening process are a psychological test and a physical exam. If you wish to be an air marshal, you should be free of health issues such as hearing or vision impairment that would interfere with your duties. There are also panel interviews, written exams, and drug tests to pass.

Once you’re accepted, you should complete a seven-week intensive training program that is required for all air marshal candidates. One of the key aspects to focus on is marksmanship because the Air Marshal Service is known for stringent qualifying standards.

After finishing the program, you will be assigned to one of the 21 field offices located throughout the country. Here, you will receive further training on how to handle all kinds of in-flight scenarios. If you are flying armed, you will also have to undergo the Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed training course.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Job growth for police and detectives is expected to be at 10% over 2008-2018, which is about the same for other professions. The main driver of this growth is the continued increase in population.

As compared to jobs in local police departments, competition is expected to be stiff for jobs in federal agencies. Those who have the best employment prospects are those with a bachelor’s degree and those with several years of experience in the military or in crime investigation. Knowing how to speak and write in several languages is a plus.

Retraining helps air marshals improve their work performance. According to the TSA, the amount of training that air marshals receive in a quarter is the same as that which most law enforcement agents receive in a full year.

There are other assignments that one can move to from an air marshal position. Related jobs that one can transfer to are involved in the communication and analysis of intelligence reports. There are also jobs in the field of information technology that are involved in the development and maintenance of security-related technology. One can also become a field trainer or transfer to administrative support positions.

Working Conditions and Environment

Being an air marshal can be extremely stressful. There is no fixed daily routine to follow and you may even be asked to board a plane on short notice. Air marshals may spend a lot of time in a plane, going from one location to another. Some may even be required to relocate several times during their career.

While in the plane, the air marshal has to act as a security presence without anyone knowing. The job can get very dangerous since air marshals have to intervene in cases where there is terrorist action. They have to make quick but smart decisions because one wrong decision can endanger the lives of the crew members and the passengers. In addition to dangerous confrontations, air marshals must be alert and ready to deal with traumatizing situations. They often work alone so there’s no one to consult or to ask help from. Also, they may witness a lot of suffering and death, and this may affect them psychologically.

Salary and Benefits

The average compensation of air marshals ranges from $25,642 to $92,127 a year. Air marshals receive salaries that are based on the SV grading system rather than the standard GS grading system. This system provides greater flexibility in setting salaries versus the GS pay scale’s step system. Air marshals receive compensation at the SV-G, H, and I pay bands. SV-G graded air marshals earn between $39,358 and $60,982 per year. Those at the SV-H pay band earn salaries ranging from $48,007 to $74,390. The highest pay goes to those at the SV-I pay band who earn from $58,495 to $90,717 annually.

Because air marshals are expected to be on the move for a significant amount of time, cost-of-living pressures may impact their earning power. As such, they receive an additional stipend as a supplement to their living costs. This allowance is also called a locality pay, and varies based on the location of the assignment. It is set as a fraction of the air marshals’ base salary and is incorporated into their paychecks.

Apart from the base and locality pay, air marshals are also entitled to receive a lot of benefits due to the nature of their job. Some of these benefits include uniform allowances, comprehensive medical coverage, and reimbursement for expenses incurred on the job. They also get as many as 13 sick days and 26 personal days every year. In addition to this, they get 10 paid vacation leaves annually. They also get a portable 401(k) plan.

Where to Go for More Information
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
P.O. Box 326
Lewisberry, PA 17339
(717) 938-2300

Transportation Security Administration
601 S 12th St.
Arlington, VA 20598-6002
(866) 289-9673

Women in Federal Law Enforcement
2200 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 102, PMB-204
Arlington, VA 22201-3324
(703) 548-9211

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service