Fitzpatrick Bill Targets Airline Safety

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More than 11 years after the 9/11 attacks that claimed her husband’s life, Ellen Saracini stood with her congressman in Bucks County on Monday to promote legislation that she says is critical for airline safety.

“We can’t be moving backward 12 years later,” said Saracini, whose husband, Victor, piloted United Airlines Flight 175 that terrorists flew into the World Trade Center.

The Lower Makefield woman has worked with Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, to develop the Saracini Aviation Safety Act, House Resolution 1775. It requires the installation of a secondary cockpit barrier door on most commercial aircraft. Fitzpatrick called the barrier a cost-effective deterrent to potential terrorists who would use planes as a weapon.

The secondary barrier is a lightweight, wire mesh installed between the passenger cabin and the cockpit door that blocks access to the flight deck when the cockpit door is opened.

Fitzpatrick introduced the measure Friday and spoke of its need on a rainy Monday at the Garden of Reflection Memorial Garden in Lower Makefield.

“If we learned anything from the 9/11 attack, it is that deterrence is essential to protecting Americans,” he said, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated the installation of reinforced cockpit doors on all commercial flights.

“The problem is that at some point, the pilots need to open the cockpit door to get a meal or rest. That is the exact moment when terrorists strike. Secondary barriers simply fulfill the intent of the efforts that were started over a decade ago by adding another layer of protection.”

Fitzpatrick said Saracini approached him because she was concerned that airlines “and we as a nation were letting our guard down.”

He said United Airlines was having the secondary barrier removed from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. This comes after the Transportation Security Administration said it would allow passengers to carry pocket knives, which had been banned, on domestic flights.

A letter from Fitzpatrick to United produced an “inadequate” reply, he said.

The issue has been of particular concern to United crews, said Heide Oberndorf, who heads the legislative committee for the pilots union. She said the airline is paying to remove secondary barriers from its new Boeing 787 jets, which come with a folding metal gate to block the cockpit when the door is open.

United has said previously that secondary barriers are just one component of flight security, and the combination of security measures can vary from one type of plane to the next. United Airlines responded after the close of business Monday and referred inquiries to Airlines for America, a commercial airlines trade organization.

The bill has bipartisan support, including local Democrats Allyson Schwartz, D-13, Bob Brady, D-1, and Chaka Fattah, D-2.

Fitzpatrick said a recent study conducted by the FAA, TSA and the airlines concluded that secondary barrier cockpit doors are the most cost-effective, efficient and safest way to protect the cockpit.

John Barton, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said after the recent bombing in Boston “we know terror isn’t going away. And if it happens at 30,000 feet, it puts you in a tough spot.”

Donald Mihalek, spokesman for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, called the pilots and flight crews the first combatants in the war on terror.

Both organizations support the legislation.

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