By Kathy Matheson
New airline safety legislation would mandate the installation of extra cockpit security in order to protect pilots and passengers from 9/11-style terrorist attacks, its main sponsor said Monday.
The current standard of requiring reinforced cockpit doors is not enough to prevent hijackings, but a relatively inexpensive secondary barrier can serve as a deterrent and give crew members crucial extra seconds needed to thwart intruders, said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
“No cost is too high to protect pilots, to protect passengers and to protect our homeland,” Fitzpatrick said at a 9/11 memorial in the Philadelphia suburb of Yardley.
Reinforced cockpit doors, which were mandated after the 2001 attacks, are occasionally opened so pilots can use the restroom or receive meals. During those brief intervals, pilots say, sometimes the only protection against a flight deck breach is a crew member with a meal cart.
Fitzpatrick’s bill, which is supported by some members of the Air Line Pilots Association, would require the installation of a wire-mesh gate to protect the cockpit when the door is open. Current federal rules do not require the gates, and most planes flown by U.S. airlines do not have them.
“We know that terrorism is not going away in this country, and at 30,000 feet up in the air, it puts our passengers, our flight attendants and crews in a very vulnerable spot,” United pilot John Barton said.
Barton was one of several union pilots who joined Fitzpatrick and local resident Ellen Saracini at the news conference at the Garden of Reflection. Saracini’s husband, Victor, was captain of United Flight 175, which hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Saracini said she fears the country has become complacent about airline security, noting that passengers could soon be allowed to carry small knives onto planes. The new policy, which was supposed to take effect last week, has been delayed.
“We can’t be moving backwards 12 years later,” Saracini said. “We have to move forward.”
The issue has been of particular concern to United crews, said Heide Oberndorf, who heads the legislative committee for the pilots union. She said the airline is paying to remove secondary barriers from its new Boeing 787 jets, which come with a folding metal gate to block the cockpit when the door is open.
United has said previously that secondary barriers are just one component of flight security, and that the combination of security measures can vary from one type of plane to the next.
On Monday, United deferred comment to Airlines for America, an industry group. Airlines for America spokeswoman Katie Connell said decisions on secondary barriers should be left to individual carriers.
Fitzpatrick’s legislation, called the Saracini Aviation Safety Act, was filed on Friday, the same day that authorities in New York announced they had found a part from one of the planes that hit the twin towers.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration declined to comment.