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New Cockpit Door Standards Issued

Aviation: Rules call for making it harder for an intruder to enter the flight deck by force. Critics say explosives risk was not addressed.


WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration issued new standards Friday to strengthen airliner cockpit doors, but some critics in the aviation security industry complained they were insufficient.

The FAA rules call for making doors harder to bash in or shoot open, even at point-blank range. And the rules also call for building in resistance to shrapnel from a grenade. But critics say the standards do not fully address a possible attack using plastic explosives.

Increasing cockpit security is one of the main goals of the government's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which hijackers were able to charge into the cockpits and take control of four airliners.

The FAA standards envision replacing temporary safeguards, such as reinforcing bars that were installed immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Airlines will have until April 2003 to install the hardened doors on about 6,000 planes.

"I think this is weak for the U.S. scenario," said Jimmy Yoh, president of Galaxy Scientific, a New Jersey-based company that makes products for the aviation industry, including a blast-resistant cockpit door. "To our disappointment, there is no blast-resistance standard."

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette defended the standards. "The new doors will provide an extremely high level of protection," she said. "It will complement other security measures that will be implemented," such as screening with additional explosives detection systems.

In addition to making the doors stronger, the FAA rules require that keys to the cockpit be restricted to flight crew members. Traditionally, the senior flight attendant also has carried a key.

Cockpit doors will have to remain locked during flight and will be designed so they can be unlocked only from the inside. Crew rescue procedures will be changed.

Boeing Co. spokesman Jim Proulx called the standards "an important step in the process" but said the company also is working on doors that can stand up to a bomb blast. "We are building explosive-resistant doors. We are trying to meet the demands that our customers are putting on us."

Without a blast-resistant design, an attacker might still be able to use an explosive charge around the edges of a door to blow it open, Yoh said. "A Sept. 11 event could still take place, and I am concerned those doors would be fully compliant with the [new] FAA requirement."

Questions also were raised about the new requirement for making cockpit doors more resistant to physical intrusion. Yoh said his engineers reviewed the FAA specification and concluded that the new doors could withstand a couple of hits by a 250-pound man but maybe not a third.

"It is still vulnerable to a well-trained person who pounds repeatedly on the door," Yoh said. "We had just better hope there is a Marine Corps guy or a Navy SEAL sitting there to intervene."

Duquette declined to discuss the specific strength requirements for the doors, but Yoh was not alone in his skepticism. Mike Markushewski, a Philadelphia-area mechanical engineer, said his initial conclusion was that the specifications are an improvement over the current doors but are not fail-safe.

The FAA estimated that the new doors will cost between $12,000 and $17,000 per aircraft. The total cost to the airline industry, including increased fuel consumption from heavier doors, could be as much as $120 million over 10 years. Some airlines, including Alaska and Jet Blue, already are moving ahead with hardened doors.

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