Congressman Fitzpatrick proposes airline safety improvements

Congressman Fitzpatrick proposes airline safety improvements

A local congressman is pushing for a major change in airline security, but will the bill "take off" or get stuck at the gate?

After September 11, cockpit doors were reinforced to make it much harder for someone to force his or her way in. But U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R - Bucks Co., is pushing a bill to add a second barrier.

Also lobbying for the new law is Ellen Saracini, whose husband was piloting the second plane flown into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

"We can't be moving backwards 12 years later," she said at a Monday news conference. "We have to move forward."

The bill would require airlines to install a series of metal cables near the front of planes. They would keep passengers out of the cockpit when pilots open the cockpit door to go to the bathroom or get food.

"It's an important bill, and nobody understands or feels the importance that more than the pilots who are behind me," said Fitzpatrick.

Commercial airline pilot Jonathan Williams, who lives in Lehigh Co., wants the added security.

"I personally think it's a good idea," he said.

Williams admitted it could be costly, though. He estimated the cost at up to $10,000 per plane. Williams said a large carrier can have as many as 600 planes. That would add up to a $6 million price tag, although the installations could be spread out over several years.

"It is quite a bit of money, but as compared to the revenue, I think it's a workable figure," said Williams.

Williams said passengers do still try to get into the cockpit occasionally.

"We have had a few instances, most of which make it to the general public, some of which do not," he said.

But another pilot, who asked 69 News to remain anonymous, thinks it's an unnecessary expense.

"Since 9-11, all the doors have been upgraded," he said. "They're very sound. They can stop just about anything, and I'm not threatened at all."

The pilots' union is backing the measure.

"With all the levels of security the TSA has implemented, this is the one thing that will stop any attempted breach of the cockpit," said Heide Oberndorf with the Airline Pilots Association.

But Saracini experts air carriers will wage a bitter fight.

"It's going to be a long, tough battle," she said. "I'm sure the airline companies are not going to be wanting this to be happening."

So far, the airlines haven't issued an official response to this idea yet, but few use the technology even though it's already available. Fitzpatrick said his legislation has support from both parties in Congress.

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