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Bill would require secondary cockpit barriers to prevent hijackings

A new bipartisan bill in the House would require secondary cockpit barriers in all commercial aircraft to prevent terrorists takeovers when pilots open flight-deck doors.

Rep. Michael Fitzpatzrick (R-Pa.), who sponsored the measure, is scheduled to introduce the bill to the public on Monday at the Garden of Reflection 9-11 Memorial in Pennsylvania.

“This is a common sense matter of public policy,” Fitzpatrick said on Friday. “It’s a simple solution that provides greater security at a relatively modest cost.”

Joining Fitzpatrick on Monday will be other members of Congress who support the measure, as well as airline pilots, flight attendants and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including Ellen Saracini, whose husband, Victor, was a pilot on board one of the planes flown into the World Trade Center.

Secondary cockpit barriers typically consist of steel cables that protect the flight deck when its doors are opened. (Courtesy of Air Line Pilots Association). Secondary cockpit barriers typically consist of steel cables that protect the flight deck when its doors are opened. (Courtesy of Air Line Pilots Association).

The secondary barriers — typically made of steel cables — can be placed in front of opened cockpit doors to prevent passengers from rushing the flight deck and taking control of an aircraft.

United Airlines has voluntarily installed the barriers in some of its largest aircraft, but most airlines rarely use the devices. Saracini last month spent a week in the capital lobbying lawmakers and the White House to mandate their use.

The Federal Aviation Administration has required cockpit doors to be heavily fortified since 2001, but the secondary barriers can protect the flight deck when pilots open the compartment to stretch or use the lavatory.

The union that represents commercial pilots has backed the Fitzpatrick bill.

“Every Democrat or Republican office we’ve gone into says this makes sense,” said Air Line Pilots Association legislative member John Barton, whose group has joined Saracini in pushing for the requirement. “Why would you take a chance at another 9/11?”

A bipartisan coalition of eight lawmakers from Pennsylvania and New York have signed on as co-sponsors of the Fitzpatrick bill.

Saracini and the pilots association increased their efforts to mandate secondary barriers following reports that United would remove the devices from its new 787 Dreamliners.

(Kazuhiro Nogi -- AFP/Getty) (Kazuhiro Nogi — AFP/Getty)

Airline-safety advocates have grown increasingly active in Washington since the Transportation Security Administration announced plans in March to allow small knives on board airplanes beginning April 25. The agency postponed that policy change indefinitely last Monday, buckling to pressure from lawmakers and airline-industry groups that opposed the move.

Two senators have called on the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general to examine the potential consequences of the TSA proposal. The agency last week said it had not set a timeline for ending the delay.

The policy switch would allow passengers to carry onto airplanes pocket knives with blades less than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch wide.

Labor groups had accused the TSA of disregarding the safety of travelers and flight crews with its decision to relax carry-on restrictions. Many lawmakers have echoed that sentiment.

“We should be protecting the safety of the public, but instead we’re rolling back the protections put in place after 9/11,” Fitzpatrick said. “It defies good sense and judgement.”

Saracini said on Friday that Congress should ban small knives from aircraft and mandate secondary cockpit barriers. “The whole thing is keeping safety first,” Saracini said. “We have to protect passengers and flight crew and potential targets on the ground.”


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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.



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Josh Hicks · April 26, 2013

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