How To Become An Air Marshal
Air Marshals play a critical role in helping keep airplanes safe for passengers. Pursuing a career as a United States Air Marshal can be a rewarding path for anyone looking to take their law enforcement experience to the skies. During a flight, the responsibilities of an Air Marshal are to protect the aircraft, crew, and passengers.
Why Become An Air Marshal
Since the 1960s, the Federal Air Marshal Service (also known as FAMS) has worked to protect civilians on thousands of flights. Today, they work under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is a program within the DHS.
Because of the serious nature of this occupation, Air Marshals are armed, undercover law enforcement officers. They are excellent marksmen and trained to handle life-threatening scenarios. Their training includes identifying irregular behavior; assessing environmental factors before, during, and after flights; and conducting any investigations that arise from an altercation or suspicion.
It is important for Air Marshals to have certain qualities that will make them successful on the job:
- Committed to law enforcement
- Copes well with stress
- Understanding of human behavior and cultural norms
- Knowledgeable about aviation
Air Marshal Work Environment
A typical Air Marshal will fly about 181 days per year. Typical days consist of 5-hour flights. That’s almost 900 hours a year in the sky!
Their work environment extends to airports, runways, and aircrafts. Because of the undercover nature of the occupations, they can spend many hours waiting, just like other passengers. Although the majority of their flights will be within the U.S., some of their flights extend internationally.
Air Marshals are independent; they do not clock-in at an office. They must be flexible with scheduling and location. Their work with the TSA means they are on-call 24/7, and they must be able to change flight plans within minutes. Per a mobility agreement with the TSA, Air Marshals must be willing to move to another part of the country if their services are needed elsewhere.
Air Marshal Salary
Air Marshals can make between $46,950 and $82,471 per year. Experience and training has a lot to do with level of pay and ease of employment. Military veterans will most likely have preferential treatment over civilians; however, experienced law enforcement officers will also find gainful employment as Air Marshals.
Air Marshal Career Outlook
The outlook for Federal Air Marshals is good; however, not many positions exist. The threat of a terrorist attack could be an imminent matter, and there will always be a need for Air Marshals. The competition for becoming an Air Marshal is strong, and only the most qualified candidates will enter the ranks. At present, approximately 3,200 to 4,000 Air Marshals exist.
Air Marshal Degree
To become an Air Marshal, an individual should have at least a bachelor’s degree. It may be possible for individuals, especially military veterans, to obtain employment with fewer credentials, depending on their experience and qualifications. Since experience is subjective, a combination of skill, education, and previous duties will be considered.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Air Marshals should have a bachelor’s degree in a program that provides leadership, analytical training, and law enforcement knowledge. A degree in criminal justice is sufficient, especially one with a concentration in homeland security or law enforcement. The following are degree programs that may help provide the accurate training for Air Marshals:
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Professional Studies – Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Criminal Justice
Note: Depending on experience, it is possible to become an Air Marshal without a bachelor’s degree. Typically U.S. veterans with an associate degree can find employment. In addition, a civilian with a master’s or doctoral degree will have an edge over other competition.
Step 2: Obtain work experience. Those with specific administrative, investigative, or other related experience will do well as an Air Marshal. The TSA prefers candidates that have at least three years’ experience in law enforcement, the military, or other position that demonstrate analytical, problem-solving, and communicative skills.
Step 3: Meet all requirements.
Individuals must meet a number of strict standards to become an Air Marshal:
- U.S. citizen
- Between the ages of 21 and 36
- Undergo training program
- Excellent mental health
- Excellent physical condition
- Educational credentials
- Experience in law enforcement or military
- Able to carry firearm
- Pass background and drug screenings
Step 4: Complete Air Marshal training. After successfully completing the application process to become an Air Marshal, individuals must undergo a 16-week training program. The training consists of two parts: physical fitness, marksmanship, and classroom instruction at the Federal Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico. You will be required to have excellent firearm skills and be in the top percentage of applicants.
Defensive techniques instruction, advanced weapons training, international law, and aviation safety at the Federal Air Marshal Service Training Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Both centers have a state of the art workplace simulator. During this simulation, you will be in a plane and face scenarios that could happen in real-life. This training can be intense as there are certain moves you can and can’t make depending on the situation.