Cockpit security rules head to FAA

By SCOTT R. BURNELL, UPI Science News  |  Nov. 9, 2001 at 2:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Aviation groups Friday endorsed enhanced cockpit door security standards, sending the proposed regulations to the Federal Aviation Administration for formal action.

The Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, meeting at FAA headquarters and via telephone, voted unanimously to approve the standards for intrusion resistance and bulletproofing. The committee includes members from airline and pilot organizations as well as aerospace companies.

The push to boost door security started more than a year before the events of Sept. 11, said Mark Allen, a Boeing engineer who chaired the group formulating the standards. Hijackings and other events provided more than enough examples of security failures for the group to consider, he said via telephone from Seattle.

The intrusion resistance standard involves preventing both people and objects -- such as weapons -- from entering the cockpit, while maintaining the door's ability to handle decompression. Allen said his group worked with existing law enforcement standards for resistance to physical impact, going about 50 percent beyond those levels to create the cockpit door requirement.

The proposed regulation would require the hinges, bolt and center of any cockpit door to withstand blows of about 220 foot-pounds of force, roughly the equivalent of a large man crashing into the door with his shoulder, Allen said. The doorknob or handle must withstand a pulling load of 250 pounds, a force greater than most humans can exert, he said.

"If (a door) meets the standard, a person with a sledgehammer and a chisel, given half an hour, might be able to gain entry," Allen said. "We would expect other measures to fall in place to prevent those kind of conditions from occurring."

It terms of bulletproofing, any bulkhead separating the cockpit from the passenger area, including cockpit floors on Boeing 747s, must withstand several shots from a 9mm or .44 Magnum handgun, Allen said. That level of protection also would stop grenade fragments, he said. The working group did not consider larger weapons, such as rifles, due to the security measures in place at airports, he said.

The proposed regulations now enter the FAA formal rulemaking process. The agency could start the procedure early next month, officials said, and the rules could become effective by the middle of next year.

The regulations would apply to new passenger planes carrying 61 or more people, as well as cargo planes with a maximum take-off weight exceeding 100,000 pounds. Legislation going before Congress could affect the types of planes affected by the standards, FAA officials said.

Airlines are not waiting for the final rules, however. The Air Transport Association of America, in documents submitted to the ARAC meeting, said its members already are working with airplane manufacturers to design and install doors meeting the standards.

"In order for industry to proceed at the pace recommended by the (FAA following Sept. 11), it is imperative that the door standards be accepted ... and fixed as an anchor for succeeding design, test, manufacturing, production and installation on an urgent schedule," the ATAA said.

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