A sky marshal (also known as air marshal or flight marshal) is an undercover law enforcement or counter terrorist agent on board a commercial aircraft to counter aircraft hijackings. Sky marshals may be provided by airlines such as El Al (who provide sky marshals on every flight), or by government agencies such as the Austrian Einsatzkommando Cobra, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, German Federal Police, National Security Guard in India, Metropolitan Police SO18 (Aviation Security Operational Command Unit) or US Federal Air Marshal Service.
In response to the September 11 incidents, the Commonwealth instituted an Air Security Officer (ASO) Program under the Australian Federal Police in December 2001. These officers are generally referred to in the media as Sky Marshals. The ASO Programme provides a discreet anti-hijacking capability for Australian civil aviation by providing armed security personnel on board aircraft. This involves both random and intelligence-led placement of armed ASOs on flights operated by Australian registered air carriers, on both domestic and international flights.
In Austria, armed air marshals are provided since 1981 by the Einsatzkommando Cobra.
The Canadian Air Carrier Protection/Protective Program (CACPP) began on September 17, 2002 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with Transport Canada, the authority responsible for Canadian aviation security, and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), for the implementation and administration of the CACPP. The program is conducted by specially trained undercover, armed RCMP officers (known as Aircraft Protective Officers- APOs) on selected domestic and international flights and all flights to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Pilots and flight attendants are advised of their presence and the officer will physically intervene should an unauthorized person attempt to gain control of an aircraft. APOs, however, will not be involved in controlling unruly passengers. While they are peace officers within Canadian territories, they rely on section 6(2) of the Tokyo Convention as a legal basis for intervening an incident outside of Canadian airspace. By law, such officers are exempt from acquiring a permit for importing or exporting their duty firearms when crossing the border. However, the exact nature of their weaponry is not released to the public except they are "deadly and effective and should not damage the aircraft."  The Canadian Forces Military Police members of the Canadian Forces Air Marshal Detail, are responsible for providing security to Canadian Forces aircraft, crew and passengers – passengers who may include the Governor General, the Prime Minister and members of the Royal Family.
Months after the September 11 attacks, private operators like Jet Airways and Air Sahara introduced sky marshals in some of their flights and had plans to increase it.[needs update] Indian Airlines had previously started this in December 1999 after the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814.
Ireland does not have a dedicated sky marshal agency. Limited capabilities are provided by the Garda Síochána Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the national police armed tactical unit, and backup may be provided by the counter-terrorism Garda Special Detective Unit (SDU) and the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) special forces unit in certain situations. The Irish government allows armed flight marshals from the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, Australia and some other European countries onboard international flights landing or destined for those countries in Irish airspace, once they are informed of their presence beforehand. Weapons carried by an air marshal in Ireland include a concealed handgun, taser, knife and pepper spray.
Members are usually from either the Air Marshal Unit, the Security Command or the Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) of the Singapore Police Force. Members have undergone extensive training to enable them to operate effectively within the confines of an aircraft.
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Sky Marshals are rarely used on flights originating from the UK. Officers from The Metropolitan Police Service Aviation Security Operational Command Unit (SO18) are used on random flights, however details of the programme are not made public and the extent of their use is not widely known. For this reason their use is not heavily documented in the media.
The US Federal Aviation Administration began its "Sky Marshal" program in 1968, which eventually became the Federal Air Marshal Service in 1985. That year, an Egyptian security officer on board EgyptAir Flight 648 opened fire on three Abu Nidal Organization hijackers, killing one before being fatally shot himself. In 2005, Rigoberto Alpizar was shot dead by two sky marshals on a jetway at Miami International Airport. Currently, Federal Air Marshal Officers are under the Transportation Security Administration. Under the Visible Intermodal Prevention Response (VIPR) system, started up circa 2005, FAMs began to patrol non-aviation sites like bus terminals and train stations.
On May 30, 2013, the first book ever written on the history of the air marshals was published in the United States by former air marshal Clay Biles. The book, titled The United States Federal Air Marshal Service: A Historical Perspective, 1962–2012 gave never-before-released information on the more than fifty years of Federal Air Marshal Service. The author interviewed a number of former Sky Marshals and contributed significantly to reversing the lack of information on this short-duration program.
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