Airplanes Will Get Second Flight Deck Barrier

Airplanes Will Get Second Flight Deck Barrier

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Last year, we saw a proposal from regulators in the United States, whereby commercial aircraft would require a second barrier to get into the flight deck. A final ruling has now been made, so this rule will soon be implemented. Is this a sensible development that will make flying safer, or unnecessary and a waste of money?

FAA will require second flight deck door

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a final ruling, requiring a secondary barrier on the flight deck of new Part 121 commercial airplanes in the United States, to ensure the safety of the aircraft, crew, and passengers. As the FAA describes this, the intent is to slow any attack on the flight deck long enough so that the flight deck can be closed and locked before an attacker could reach it.

With this, aircraft manufacturers will have to install a second barrier. However, this only applies for planes built two or more years after the effective date of this rule.

This was actually proposed several years back — the FAA was supposed to have adopted this rule by 2019 under a 2018 federal law, but the agency hasn’t acted until now. Of course the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed aviation forever. Since 9/11, we’ve seen the introduction of reinforced cockpit doors, which realistically can’t be broken into.

This new law is intended to address situations where one of the pilots has to leave the cockpit (whether to go to the bathroom, go on break, etc.). Currently in these situations, a flight attendant will simply block the aisle with a cart while the door is open.

The FAA is estimating that this secondary barrier will cost $35,000 per aircraft, including the purchase of the barrier plus the installation. After the addition of training and other costs, the present value costs for this rule are $236.5 million at a 7% discount rate and $505 million at a 3% discount rate.

Here’s how US Transportation Sectary Pete Buttigieg describes the new rule:

“Every day, pilots and flight crews transport millions of Americans safely — and today we are taking another important step to make sure they have the physical protections they deserve.”

So, how would this second cockpit barrier work? Let’s use the below picture of the front of an American A321neo cabin as an example. It’s my understanding that right in front of the bulkhead there would be a second door that could essentially just “fold” out as needed — it will be open for most of the flight, and will only close when the cockpit needs to be accessed.

The front of the Airbus A321neo cabin

Is a second cockpit barrier really necessary?

It goes without saying that everything should be done to make aviation as safe as possible. That being said, this seems like a solution that doesn’t actually solve a whole lot. How many people have successfully broken into a cockpit of a commercial airplane in the 20+ years since 9/11? I think zero globally, but someone correct me if I’m wrong.

That comes down to multiple factors:

  • It comes down to reinforced cockpit doors, which mean that you can’t break into cockpits
  • It comes down to the mentality around hijackings having changed; previously if someone threatened an airline employee with a weapon, they’d typically let them into the cockpit, while that wouldn’t happen in a post-9/11 world
  • Passengers wouldn’t allow a hijacking to happen; in the past they would have probably cooperated with hijackers, thinking that would be the solution that leads to the least damage, while I think that mindset has changed post-9/11

Let’s talk about another aspect of the reinforced cockpit door. How many planes have crashed in the past decade due to one pilot being locked out of the cockpit and not being able to get back in?

While I’m not suggesting we should get rid of reinforced cockpit doors, one has to wonder how many lives have really been saved by them.

To me, pilot mental health and one person in a cockpit presents a much bigger risk to aviation than adding a second cockpit door. Admittedly this is more of a global problem than a US problem — at least US airlines are required to always have two people in the cockpit, which is why a flight attendant always has to enter the cockpit when a pilot leaves. This doesn’t apply to foreign airlines flying to the US, though.

I’m much more concerned about the actions of pilots

Bottom line

The FAA has issued a rule that requires newly built commercial airplanes to have a second cockpit barrier, which will likely come in the form of a second door that extends out when the cockpit door needs to open.

On the one hand, I guess this can’t hurt, other than the cost. On the other hand, this seems to address what I’d consider to be an absolutely tiny risk.

What do you think — is a second cockpit barrier on commercial airplanes really necessary?

Conversations (28)
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  1. LovetoFly Member

    There might be another interesting twist to this news story...

    Not sure which secondary barrier will be used, but one of the patents on those barriers is by Robert MacLean (https://patents.google.com/patent/US10850865B2/en and https://patents.google.com/patent/US20180099762A1 ). He's been mentioned in your blogs before as a former Air Marshal whistleblower (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_MacLean ).

  2. Ron Guest

    Amazing. I've always found the trick with using a trolley to block access when pilots need to take a piss ridiculous. Seen nowhere around the world except US.

  3. Jerry Wheen Gold

    United had this on the upper deck of their 747s: a pull-out barrier with horizontal strings blocking off the forward galley.

  4. 773 Guest

    Lufthansa B747-400 already have double cockpit doors, between the doors you can find additional lavatory for cockpit / cabin crew. But for some reason doors are kept open during taxi, takeoff and landing.

  5. iamhere Guest

    No incident has caused people to consider this so why..?

  6. AD Diamond

    Security theater and a complete waste of time and money. I'm with you @lucky. I'm more concerned with someone locking everyone out of the cockpit than in right now. And now we have a new wrinkle...

    What if a terrorist closes the second door when the FAs are out of the galley or takes a single FA hostage between the two doors... they then have control of an enclosed space and the potential for a...

    Security theater and a complete waste of time and money. I'm with you @lucky. I'm more concerned with someone locking everyone out of the cockpit than in right now. And now we have a new wrinkle...

    What if a terrorist closes the second door when the FAs are out of the galley or takes a single FA hostage between the two doors... they then have control of an enclosed space and the potential for a terrorist to try to leverage the pilots or to try to break into the cockpit using everything they have and everything in the galley. The reinforced doors work on the assumption that people have extremely limited time to work on them...

  7. ricky Guest

    New planes could be built with a toilet in the cockpit instead.

  8. RF Diamond

    Unnecessary. The two crew member rule is much better.

  9. Pierre Diamond

    My My.... Aren't we far from the time when Robert Crandall, AA's iconic CEO, was considered a hero because he removed, in 1995, one olive from the salad to save on weight and fuel consumption?

  10. Volleyball New Member

    "To restrict access to the hardened cockpit door during door transitions" is the reason for this...

  11. snic Diamond

    Good old TSA (and FAA), fighting yesterday's battles today.

    1. Volleyball New Member

      Brilliant, thanks for the laugh!

    2. henare Diamond

      Yup. So much of the security nonsense passed after 9/11 has been security theater more than anything. REAL ID finally becoming a real thing after more than 20 years... none of this stuff makes me safer.

  12. Eskimo Guest

    While I personally believe the whole "cockpit" would be obsolete soon.

    This does raise one alarming question.
    They believe one layer wasn't enough, they needed two.
    That means since 9/11, it took the regulators 22 years to realize one reinforced door isn't enough? And we were at risk the whole time? We're just lucky that no terrorist could get past the reinforce door since?
    If it was really a safety issue, why...

    While I personally believe the whole "cockpit" would be obsolete soon.

    This does raise one alarming question.
    They believe one layer wasn't enough, they needed two.
    That means since 9/11, it took the regulators 22 years to realize one reinforced door isn't enough? And we were at risk the whole time? We're just lucky that no terrorist could get past the reinforce door since?
    If it was really a safety issue, why not mandate it since 9/11.

    Rather than spending money to reinforce doors, divert those money to automation and make the whole cockpit obsolete. No more pilot error, deliberate crash, or cockpit intrusion. Much safer.

  13. LEo Diamond

    It depends on the meaning of the second door, could a curtain around cockpit count? I know Air China got a policy that non-relevant individuals are not allowed to view any part of the cockpit's interior, atleast for the A350. Hence, if the door need to open, the forward curtain around the cockpit door has to be released first, and then the door opened, door closes, before that curtain can be closed again.

  14. Trey Guest

    I'm not sure copilot getting locked out of cockpit is the leading theory for MH370. That would mean he (co pilot) and rest of passengers would've been banging on the door for 6+ hrs while the pilot flew out to the middle of the Indian Ocean or the cabin was instantly intentionally depressurized before anyone on board could reach out to the outside world or attempt to break back in (is that even possible?)

    1. Michael Guest

      That is correct. Leading theory is that captain sent FO out with some excuse, then locked him out and immediately depressurized the cabin to incapacitate everyone. Even with supplemental oxygen which only lasts a few minutes, it wouldn't have been enough time to bring down a cockpit door, which is virtually impossible. Those passengers and crew were dead for many many hours with the captain free to fly out into the middle of the Indian Ocean.

  15. Regis Guest

    The US requirement for at least two crew members to be inside the cockpit at all times is crucial. It is really unbelievable it is not an international standard.

    1. Chris Guest

      Yet politicians are lobbying hard for single pilot cockpits coming to an airline near you.

  16. Nelson Diamond

    I'm completely with you! Calling about a waste of money (and possibily putting lives in danger...)
    Just like you, after 9/11 I don't have memory of any hijacking when somebody enter the Cockpit. Those doors are enough reinforced to prevent that. And isn't the last lock to open the door coming out of the Cockpit?!
    In my opinion the only thing that is in need regarding the Cockpit is NEVER EVER let that...

    I'm completely with you! Calling about a waste of money (and possibily putting lives in danger...)
    Just like you, after 9/11 I don't have memory of any hijacking when somebody enter the Cockpit. Those doors are enough reinforced to prevent that. And isn't the last lock to open the door coming out of the Cockpit?!
    In my opinion the only thing that is in need regarding the Cockpit is NEVER EVER let that space be a one man/woman show.
    Quite sure most, if not all those suicide crashes would have been prevented.

    1. mbf Guest

      I used to think as you did, until I watched a video (I think youtube) that demonstrates exactly how an intrusion can occur.

      Long story short, video shows an actor jumping from row 1 aisle seat in one fell motion over the trolley that a flight attendant pulls out, in process knocking said attendant over and basically one more big step with energy momentum, surging into the cockpit as pilot has a door open (while...

      I used to think as you did, until I watched a video (I think youtube) that demonstrates exactly how an intrusion can occur.

      Long story short, video shows an actor jumping from row 1 aisle seat in one fell motion over the trolley that a flight attendant pulls out, in process knocking said attendant over and basically one more big step with energy momentum, surging into the cockpit as pilot has a door open (while getting out/in).

      It was actually chilling to watch.

      How realistic is it, I don't know; execution would have to be flawless. The second door will help prevent this from even being a possibility.

    2. Pierre Diamond

      And that has happened... how many times, in 22 years ?

    3. mbf Guest

      Well, on Sep 10, 2001, we could have asked how many times in past did planes get hijacked and used as missiles, but it happened...crazy stuff can happen any day. Thank God it normally doesnt!

  17. S Gold

    Pilots deliberately crashing the plane is my biggest fear with regard to safety as well. I am glad the US has the rule about a FA being in the cockpit if one leaves, but who knows how much that would really do if someone was determined. Once that door is locked and the other pilot is out, it's game over. No way to get into that cockpit anymore.

    It'd be an awful way to...

    Pilots deliberately crashing the plane is my biggest fear with regard to safety as well. I am glad the US has the rule about a FA being in the cockpit if one leaves, but who knows how much that would really do if someone was determined. Once that door is locked and the other pilot is out, it's game over. No way to get into that cockpit anymore.

    It'd be an awful way to go. Knowing there's no way to get in and just waiting to die for however long the descent is. The Germanwings crash gives me nightmares. They were in descent for quite a while and the passengers would've known something was wrong when the captain was slamming on the door trying to get the FO to open it.

    For the second door, I'm pretty meh on it overall. I guess the best argument for it is it prevents someone from trying to attack the FA at the drinks cart or trying to jump over it or something. Not that they'd get in the cockpit, but could prevent potential FA injuries. I don't think it's really necessary, but I also don't think it's completely worthless.

    1. Geoff Selvey Guest

      A 2nd person on the flight deck I.e an FA whilst one or the other Pilots goes for a toilet break is nothing more than a panacea to appease the traveling public. If the remaining Pilot is bent enough to want to destroy the plane and it’s contents an FA is not going to be able to stop them….nor be able to get the door open in time to let the other Pilot in…who wouldn’t be able to do anything either.

    2. BBK Diamond

      You mean slamming the door with an axe. The pax noted, for sure.

  18. Jeff Guest

    I believe some wide bodies already have this. I’ve observed a “gate” in the vestibule between the door to the flight deck and the general area near the forward galley. I want to say I’ve seen this on some Delta A330 or A350. The gate is a set of bars that folds out from a wall that encloses to vestibule.

  19. Mike O. Guest

    Plot twist: the crew become hijackers...

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Pierre Diamond

And that has happened... how many times, in 22 years ?

2
snic Diamond

Good old TSA (and FAA), fighting yesterday's battles today.

2
Eskimo Guest

While I personally believe the whole "cockpit" would be obsolete soon. This does raise one alarming question. They believe one layer wasn't enough, they needed two. That means since 9/11, it took the regulators 22 years to realize one reinforced door isn't enough? And we were at risk the whole time? We're just lucky that no terrorist could get past the reinforce door since? If it was really a safety issue, why not mandate it since 9/11. Rather than spending money to reinforce doors, divert those money to automation and make the whole cockpit obsolete. No more pilot error, deliberate crash, or cockpit intrusion. Much safer.

2
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