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Air Marshal: Career Guide

Following the events on September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was instituted, and within it lies the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The main mission of the TSA is to secure the airlines, including the aircraft, the passengers, and the crew members. To accomplish this mission, the TSA developed the Air Marshal Service, a group of undercover, armed, law enforcement officers who ride on passenger flights around the world to protect against hostile acts.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

The TSA reports that a typical air marshal (sometimes called sky marshal) flies 181 days each year, spending 900 hours a year, or five hours a day, in the air. Like most law enforcement personnel, sky marshals evaluate the environment, attempt to identify potential suspicious activity, and conduct investigations in an effort to protect airline travelers and crew against terrorist violence. They often work with law enforcement agencies to ensure success in their mission. This job comes with high levels of pressure, and requires constant awareness and attention to detail.

Federal air marshals with a strong track record and sufficient experience may be promoted to a senior management or a supervisory position. In addition to working at airports throughout the country, sky marshals are currently employed by such organizations as the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the National Targeting Center.

Steps for Becoming an Air Marshal

Air marshal candidates must be US citizens, between 21 and 36 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and be in excellent physical health. A bachelor’s degree is required for candidates who do not have qualifying experience (read more details below). Candidates can expect to undergo a process similar to the one below when applying to become an air marshal.

  1. Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*
  2. Apply for an air marshal job on the USAJOBS website.
  3. Be interviewed and perform other assessments.
  4. Submit to fingerprinting and a background investigation.
  5. Take and pass a drug screening.
  6. Take and pass a medical exam.
  7. Be hired as an air marshal.
  8. Complete a rigorous 16-week training program including 36 days at the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) Federal Air Marshal Service Training Program-I (FAMSTP-I) in New Mexico and an advanced 43-day training program at the Federal Air Marshal Service Training Program II (FAMSTP-II) in New Jersey.
  9. Receive on-the-job training once hired.

*US air marshals must have either a bachelor’s degree, three years of qualifying work experience (administrative, professional, technical, or investigative), or an acceptable combination of both education and experience.

Air Marshal Job Training

Successful candidates must participate in a mandatory training program. The first 36 days of the basic training program take place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in New Mexico. The second part of the program takes place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where recruits receive more specialized training. Topics covered during training include international law, aircraft safety, how to recognize criminal and terroristic behavior, how to arrest suspects quickly and lawfully, and aircraft medicine, in case marshals have to administer first aid while in flight. Applicants must become proficient in firearm use and in close quarters self-defense.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Aspiring sky marshals must be comfortable working independently and be highly skilled at accurate shooting in close quarters. Former law enforcement or military experience may be beneficial.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Air Marshal
  • Federal Air Marshal
  • Sky Marshal
  • US Air Marshal

Air Marshal Salary and Job Outlook

The TSA has its own unique pay scale, unlike any of the other government system offices. In the TSA, the salary steps include letters A through M. The starting pay depends on factors like education and experience. Salary increases as TSA employees are promoted to higher levels of responsibility. The current TSA pay scale is available at the TSA website. Air marshals receive the same benefit plans that other government employees receive – life and health insurance, medical and dental insurance, paid vacation, and retirement plans. The hiring outlook for sky marshals is influenced by Homeland Security’s efforts to prevent attacks and the number of air miles traveled in the United States.

While a college degree can’t guarantee an air marshal position, law enforcement leaders such as Sheriff Gary Raney and former Sheriff Sue Rahr agree that a degree can help set you apart from the competition and help with career progression in any law enforcement related career.

Related Careers

If you are interested in a career as an air marshal, you may also be interested in the related jobs below:

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How important is physical fitness to becoming a federal air marshal?

Answer: Physical fitness is essential to success as an air marshal. Candidates should expect rigorous physical, strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular training each day during the mandatory training programs.

Question: How rigorous is the firearms training?

Answer: The 16-week training program starts with firearms training and will encompass over 150 hours of classroom instruction and shooting practice. Trainees can expect to fire more than 5,500 rounds using their semiautomatic pistol.

Question: What are the typical working conditions for an air marshal?

Answer: Air marshals work independently and must be able to remain inconspicuous among passengers. Work may be stressful as air marshals must consistently be watchful of their surroundings and must respond quickly if problems arise.

Additional Resources

References:
1. Department of Homeland Security: https://hraccess-assessment.tsa.dhs.gov/Forms/PTATrainingGuide.pdf
2. US Marshals Service: http://www.usmarshals.gov/careers/