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Sunday, December 3, 2023

FAA Requires Secondary Barrier on Aircraft to Prevent Another 9/11

Between the time of opening and closing the flight deck door, the open flight deck has some degree of vulnerability to attack. Such an attack could happen quickly, and leave insufficient time for the cabin crew to react.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require a secondary barrier on the flight deck of new commercial airplanes to ensure the safety of aircraft, flight crew and air passengers. The final rule mandating the additional barrier will protect flight decks from intrusion when the flight deck door is open.

“No pilot should have to worry about an intrusion on the flight deck,” said Acting FAA Associate Administrator for Safety David Boulter. 

Aircraft manufacturers will be required to install secondary barriers on commercial aircraft produced after the rule goes into effect. The FAA is not requiring existing airplanes to be retrofitted at this time despite union calls to do so.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, the FAA adopted standards for flight deck security in January 2002 which were intended to make the flight deck resistant to forcible intrusion and small firearms, and prevent unauthorized entry into the flight deck. 

Strengthened doors are necessary but they have their downfalls too. 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.

Regardless of the strength and security of the flight deck door, during normal usage it must occasionally open to accommodate necessary activities such as lavatory breaks and meal service. Between the time of opening and closing the flight deck door (door transition), the open flight deck therefore has some degree of vulnerability to attack. Such an attack could happen quickly, and leave insufficient time for the cabin crew to react.

The secondary barrier rule meets a requirement of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act and the Biden-Harris Administration made this rule a priority in 2021. In 2022, the FAA proposed the rule after seeking recommendations from aircraft manufacturers and labor partners. 

The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) said the long-overdue final rule will mandate the installation of secondary barriers on all newly manufactured aircraft within two years.

“Twenty-two years ago this September, terrorists used passenger aircraft to kill nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans and shattered our sense of safety and security. We responded to these attacks decisively and put multiple measures in place to prevent another tragedy like this from happening, but until now have failed to act to install secondary flight deck door barriers,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA president. “I applaud Acting FAA Administrator Polly Trottenberg for moving to implement this live-saving measure after years of needless delay.”

ALPA has been a strong proponent of the lightweight security devices that it says have proven effective in creating a physical barricade to help prevent hostile individuals from reaching the flight deck while its door is opened during flight.

“With this action addressing the installation of secondary barriers on newly manufactured aircraft, we must redouble our efforts to pass the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911/S. 911) to address the retrofitting of existing airliners, and work to install primary barriers on cargo aircraft. Because ensuring that no terrorist—domestic or international—breaches another aircraft flight deck door again should be one of this nation’s highest security priorities,” said Ambrosi.

Read more at the FAA

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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