Fortified Cockpit Doors – Reliability 15%
After 9/11, the FAA mandated new, heavier, bulletproof doors for airline cockpits across the U.S. commercial air fleet. All commercial airliners now have them installed. While fortified doors are a dramatic improvement, compared to previously existing ones, they are far from a panacea against a motivated terrorist team.
- Soon after 9/11, a new, fortified cockpit door was breached by a drunken passenger on an international flight.
- A few months later, an after-hours cleaning crew easily broke one off its hinges on a bet, by running a heavy snack cart into it, instantly gaining access to the cockpit.
- Some transoceanic flights are up to six hours from the nearest point of landing in an emergency, providing ample time for a terrorist team to work on breaching the door.
But, by far, the greatest weakness in the fortified door is that it must be routinely opened during flight. Every time the pilots receive a meal, every time they must use the lavatory, the door must be opened, providing a terrorist seated in First Class the opportunity to leap forward through the opened door and through any flight attendant guarding it, to block it open for other terrorists, or worse, to slam it behind him, preventing even the passengers or possible air marshals from gaining entry to help. In tests, APSA personnel were successful in gaining cockpit entry this way, 100% of the time, even though the “flight crew” knew it was coming.
Flight Attendants must also be able to gain access to the cockpit in order to do their jobs. It is certainly easy to understand how a flight attendant with a knife at his or her throat, and under threat of a horrible death or torture, might give a terrorist access to the cockpit, despite being trained not to.
On all but a tiny fraction of airliners, the fortified cockpit door is all that stands between a terrorist and anther 9/11. An unarmed flight crew would find it impossible to retain control of the airliner once the cockpit has been breached.
The reliability of a fortified door in preventing terror attack is 15%, if the terrorists exploit its inherent weaknesses, which we expect they will do.