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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Pilots Association Renews Calls to Address Security Vulnerability

ALPA has called on Transportation Security Buttigieg to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a final secondary flight deck barrier regulation which was mandated by Congress nearly three years ago.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), the world’s largest non-governmental aviation safety organization that represents 60,000 pilots at 36 U.S. and Canadian airlines, is again calling on federal regulators to address an aviation security vulnerability and prevent another 9/11 type attack. Last month, ALPA called on Transportation Security Buttigieg to urge the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue a final secondary flight deck barrier regulation which was mandated by Congress nearly three years ago.

As well as preventing another 9/11 incident, ALPA pointed out that recent trends in unruly passenger behavior must be taken into consideration. “At a time of increased passenger disruptions and assaults on frontline aviation workers, the FAA continues to permit a known security threat to jeopardize passengers and flight crews on U.S. airliners,” the letter read.

The letter followed a previous request in May 2021, but the matter remains unresolved.

“The greatest way to honor the memories of the nearly 3,000 people who died is to use our voices, expertise and resolve to ensure that 9/11 is in America’s past—and not a prelude to another terrorist attack in which airplanes are, once again, turned into weapons of mass destruction,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA president. “Issuing the secondary barrier rule would be a powerful and simple way for Administrator Dickson to honor the pilots, flight attendants, passengers, first responders, and other victims who lost their lives on 9/11. The FAA should stop stalling, follow the law and take immediate steps to improve aviation by implementing this critical, live-saving measure.”

In addition, ALPA is calling Congress to immediately pass legislation that requires primary, hardened flight deck doors on all cargo aircraft. These planes, which frequently carry non-airline personnel who often have not cleared the same security checks as individuals on passenger airlines, fly in the same airspace, to the same airports, and present the same risks as passenger aircraft. However, some have no flight deck door at all. A bipartisan bill to close this gap was introduced in Congress in July.

“This significant security gap in our aviation system currently allows relatively unfettered access to the cargo flight deck during flight operations. For far too long, there has been a dangerous double standard when it comes to common-sense safety and security provisions for cargo operations and it is way past time to end it,” added DePete.

After 9/11, Congress mandated hardened flight deck doors on commercial airliners. Unfortunately, the only all-cargo aircraft included were those that had flight deck doors at that time. The majority of all-cargo aircraft were not equipped with doors, and virtually all cargo aircraft manufactured since are not equipped with the hardened flight deck door. 

It is worth noting however that in 2015 a Germanwings co-pilot deliberately downed an aircraft into the French Alps after locking himself into the cockpit when he was left alone, killing all passengers and crew members on the flight from Barcelona. An investigation found that the reinforced structure of the cockpit doors, designed for security reasons to resist penetration, could not be broken from outside to enable somebody to enter before the aircraft crashed. Investigators also found that the co-pilot had previously considered suicide.

This incident and the threat of others like it is perhaps one reason for stalling. However there are solutions to the lone flyer problem which could be overcome either with remote or automated technology, or by a policy of ensuring no person is left alone in the cockpit at any time as some countries already have in place. And of course, a greater awareness of the insider threat and background checks could also prevent such an incident. 

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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