Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cockpit Safety Emerges as Central Concern ; Access Is Tightened, but One Worry Is a Master Key That Opens Cockpit Doors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cockpit Safety Emerges as Central Concern ; Access Is Tightened, but One Worry Is a Master Key That Opens Cockpit Doors

Article excerpt

One key opens all the cockpit doors in Boeing aircraft.

A copy of that key is issued to every pilot who flies Boeing planes. Many just carry it on their key chains. Some flight attendants also have a copy. And in every Boeing aircraft, that same key is left in a place that is easily accessible to flight attendants, cleaners, and other workers who may need access to the cockpit.

The ease with which hijackers apparently entered the cockpits of four Boeing jets last Tuesday is raising alarms within the industry about the ubiquity of that key. It is just one of a host of issues confronting aviation officials as they struggle to understand the chain of events that led to the hijackings.

"The entire industry is going to be reexamined as a result of Sept. 11," says Liz Verdier, a spokeswoman for the Boeing Co. in Seattle. "Every part that previously met the FAA and regulatory standards is probably going to be reexamined."

Access to the cockpit is one of the issues at the top of the list. The Department of Transportation has set up a task force that will look at aircraft safety, with a "special focus" on cockpit security. It is due to make recommendations no later than Oct. 1. But since the attacks, the airlines have already made significant changes in their safety procedures surrounding crew identification and cockpit access. For security reasons, none of them are being released.

"They're really working to guard against impostors," says one industry insider, who for security reasons asked to remain anonymous. Many within the industry are stunned by how easily the hijackers apparently managed to gain access to the cockpit, especially since a set of secret codes and procedures already existed. Theories abound.

Getting to the controls

Did a pilot open the door, fearing a crew member was hurt? Or could a door have been forced open? More than a dozen times since 1997, passengers have managed to push their way in.

Or did the hijackers have what looked like certified pilot's identification? As a result, could they have already been in the cockpit - so-called "jump-seating?" That's the routine industry practice when off-duty pilots sit in the extra seat in the cockpit, rather than back with the passengers.

"I can't imagine the hijackers could have gotten into the cockpit with such seeming ease without a key, or wearing a uniform, or something like that," says the industry source. "There was a reason people's guard seems to have been let down."

Some answers may emerge from the black boxes, which record the last 30 minutes of flight time and were recovered from the wreckage at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Already, Boeing and manufacturers of other planes are reassessing how they look at the cockpit and its door.

"The cockpit door, at least until Sept. …

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