New security feature planned for United, American airliners: steel bars on cockpit doors

Wednesday, October 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The nation's two leading airlines agreed to install steel bars that reinforce cockpit doors, a safety device recommended by President Bush as part of his airline safety initiative following the terrorist attacks.

Seeking to protect pilots and calm nervous passengers, American and United said Tuesday that they will immediately begin installing the locking bars on all planes. Other airlines are expected to follow suit.

The airlines announced their safety efforts on the same day a Transportation Department task force said airlines should begin installing stronger cockpit doors within 30 days.

``We've got to do what we've got to do right now,'' said Herb Hunter, a United pilot and spokesman for the airline's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association. ``It's a wonderful first step.''

United spokesman Joe Hopkins said the bars should be on doors within a matter of weeks.

American, the nation's No. 1 airline, said it has installed prototypes of the devices on an MD-80 and a Boeing 757, and will install them within 30 days on all other aircraft types flown by American and TWA, which is owned by American's parent company.

But some are concerned that the devices may actually jeopardize safety.

Aircraft maker Boeing expressed reservations about retrofitting planes with locking devices. The bars could prevent evacuation of the cockpit in an emergency, some airline industry observers say. Flight attendants have said they're worried about not being able to get into cockpits if pilots became incapacitated.

Other airlines were prepared to begin installing the crossbar locking devices on their cockpit doors but were awaiting a more formal directive from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The steel bars are designed to prevent forced entry into a plane's control center, which likely happened Sept. 11 on the four airliners that were taken over by terrorists.