cockpit door fix not easy or cheap - analysts : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

cockpit door fix not easy or cheap - analysts Thursday September 27, 7:01 PM EDT

(Adds construction, timing details, paragraphs 7, 10, 13, 23-24)

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Reinforcing the cockpit door of commercial airliners, as President George W. Bush proposed on Thursday, will be a complex, time-consuming and expensive security enhancement, aviation experts said.

Still, the call to redesign flight deck access, unlike some of the other security proposals taking shape in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks, has nearly unanimous support from policymakers, lawmakers and flight crews.

"The lock is only meant to keep your friends out," one veteran pilot said about existing cockpit doors, which do not impede determined intruders.

On Sept. 11, hijackers gained access to the cockpits of four commercial jets and apparently took the controls, ramming two into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Bush said on Thursday in Chicago that his administration would dedicate $500 million, included in a $40 billion federal emergency aid package, to help finance projects to fortify the cockpit.

The Air Line Pilots Association said current doors were "weak and flimsy" and recommended a short-term measure of installing a deadbolt lock on the inside of cockpit doors that cannot be overridden with a key from the outside.

Behind the door would be a mesh screen for extra protection.


The stopgap design must ensure that pilots can get into the passenger cabin quickly in case of an emergency.

"This will offer a relatively small but needed additional margin of security over today's cockpit doors," union president Duane Woerth said in recent congressional testimony.

He said the retrofit could take as long as a year to complete.

While the concept of replacing doors seems uncomplicated, the reality of the project is anything but, industry and government experts agreed.

"It is not as simple as finding a heavier door and taking the old door off its hinges and putting on a new one," said Tim Neale, a Boeing spokesman.

There are more than 7,000 airliners in the U.S. commercial fleet, of which roughly two-thirds were made by Boeing Co. All four hijacked planes -- two 767s and two 757s -- were Boeing aircraft.

There are 40 different cockpit door designs that are made to Federal Aviation Administration specifications on Boeing and other commercial planes.

A Boeing spokeswoman said cost has not been part of the discussion, but some planners have made a full-time job in recent days of finding a solution that would meet the new safety and engineering challenges.

"One of the challenges we face in aircraft design is that you have to account for a lot of different things," Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Phil Condit said this week.

At issue is developing a door and related systems that can withstand the force of a determined intruder but still enable the crew to get out in an emergency or access the passenger cabin for other reasons, such as observing a faulty engine not visible from the cockpit.


There are also times during an accident or fire when passengers might have to be evacuated through the cockpit.

A door that is too light or weak will not solve the security issue. A door that is too strong might satisfy security concerns but could fail on safety.

A central issue with safety is depressurization of the aircraft, which is very rare but can be disastrous if equal distribution of pressure is impeded by something like an airtight steel door.

Another problem facing engineers is that replacing the door itself might not be enough.

"The door is really part of a system that controls access to the cockpit," said one expert, who suggested multiple changes might be required. "The door and the bulkhead to which it is attached is anchored to the airframe."

One solution gaining currency with regulators in recent days, an FAA official said, is a design in which two lightweight doors separated by a small area would secure access to the cockpit.

Some have suggested using a lightweight material, like Kevlar, a synthetic substance made by DuPont Co. that is superstrong and used as reinforcement in aircraft construction and in bulletproof vests.

Finally, it is possible that many FAA regulations governing the specifications for each model of cockpit door would have to be changed, which could be a tedious process.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 28, 2001

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