Secondary Cockpit Barrier Debate Continues

 - September 30, 2013, 1:35 PM

Ellen Saracini, widow of 9/11 United Airlines Flight 175 captain Victor Saracini, told AIN she does not believe that the airline her late husband flew for is doing all it can to prevent another 9/11-like cockpit takeover. Saracini was invited to Chicago on September 4 to discuss (with United vice president of corporate safety Michael Quiello) the company’s use of secondary cockpit barriers to prevent a potential breach. United Airlines currently maintains the largest fleet of aircraft already equipped with secondary barriers.

Saracini said Quiello told her the airline does not specifically support the expanded use of secondary barriers because United believes the threat of a potential explosive device finding its way onto an aircraft is much greater than that of another hijacking. A United Airlines spokesperson told AIN, “Security measures have evolved in the years since the secondary barriers were ordered, and many more layers of security now exist.” That same spokesperson said the research that spelled out those updated security measures is confidential.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick have both authored bills (the Saracini Aviation Safety Act of 2013–HR 1775 and SB 1495) that call for more secondary barrier installations. So far, the bills have not left committee.

In a March 2013 white paper, Secondary Flight Deck Barriers and Flight Deck Access, the Air Line Pilots Association issued a call for action to support the installation of secondary barriers in light of research that appears to contradict United’s. “Government intelligence agencies remain concerned that terrorist organizations will seek to hijack airliners to use them as improvised weapons of mass destruction,” the white paper said.

While no one with whom AIN spoke was familiar with the change to airline security mentioned by Quiello, one government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, took serious issue with that stance. “If a cockpit takeover is no longer considered a threat, why do we continue to spend millions of dollars on the Federal Air Marshal and the Federal Flight Deck Officer programs?” that person said.

Saracini said her meeting with United Airlines Corporate Security in Chicago ended with one succinct airline statement: “Ellen, we [at United] are following all of the TSA/FAA mandates currently in place. Until we are told to do differently, we will continue with what we are doing now.”