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Pilots Taking Security In Their Own Hands

(September 18, 2001)

Now that terrorists have used airliners as weapons, pilots are being advised to take action. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents more than 66,000 pilots at 47 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, began advising its members to consider any means necessary to thwart hijackers.

Drastic Measures

Actions such as depressurizing the aircraft and drastic flying maneuvers are being considered to keep assailants off balance and away from the cockpit. "We are urging pilots that in doing so, they not hesitate to exercise captain’s authority to the fullest extent to ensure the safety of each and every flight," says ALPA President Captain Duane Woerth. Pilots have been taught in yearly recurrent training to cooperate with hijackers; however, that was before last week's attack.

Proactive Steps

While the government has created teams of experts called “rapid response teams” to improve air security, pilots aren't wasting any time doing anything and everything they can do to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. Now, pilots are taking security into their own hands. ALPA has recommended the following to its members:

  • Pilots should, first and foremost, open lines of communication with our fellow employees. Ensure that the crew is briefed.

  • Ensure that the aircraft, after servicing and prior to boarding, has been searched by personnel who have been trained to do so. This search should not be conducted by the crewmembers.

  • Captains should not hesitate to exercise their fullest authority. If there is any doubt or suspicion about flight security, they should not close the door for departure until it is resolved.

  • Captains should review emergency procedures with the flight and cabin crew for if there is a hijacking or bomb threat.

  • If any type of security event begins in the cabin, pilots should not hesitate to declare an emergency and land the aircraft.

  • If the aircraft has a cockpit door, the pilot should close and lock it, and not allow anyone to enter without knowledge and consent.

  • Consider using the jumpseat or other material to block the door until other measures are instituted.

  • Aircraft cockpits are equipped with a crash ax, which should be considered a potential defensive weapon if there is a suicidal hijacking. The ax should only be wielded if the crewmember is convinced that using it is necessary to save lives. The pilot must be prepared to kill a cockpit intruder.
Indeed, many pilots are taking the crash ax out of its storage area and putting it where they can access it immediately. A US Airways pilot (who wishes to remain anonymous) says, "I've got it right next to me on all flights. These terrorist better not mess with us."

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