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'Cockpit not locked all the time'

VULNERABLE: A determined assailant can take control of an aircraft's flight deck
(New Strait Times) - KUALA LUMPUR: CAN an airliner's reinforced and bullet-resistant, locked cockpit door be breached by skyjackers?

The cockpit door cannot be locked for the entire duration of a flight, said aviation experts, including cockpit and cabin crew.

All it takes is just seconds for a hijacker or person with ill intentions, either seated or standing close to the cockpit, to rush forward before the door is shut.

One of them said the door had to be opened at some time of the flight by the cockpit crew -- the captain, co-pilot or support personnel.

"This will happen when one of the cockpit crew members excuses himself to visit the restroom (outside the cockpit) or needs to take a walkabout in the jetliner's cabin to inspect something during a technical fault, or just for an 'ease of mind' walk during a long flight. Or this can happen when a flight attendant serves the cockpit crew their beverages or meals," he said.

Another expert said at that point, all a perpetrator needed to do was rush forward and overpower the pilot to gain access into the cockpit.

"Alternately, the culprit can place a sharp object (like a meal knife) against a flight attendant or passenger and threaten to cause harm, unless he sees the pilot," she said.

Such a scenario was thought possible as it was believed that potential culprits would be brazen without air marshals on board Malaysia Airlines flights.

"Once inside the cockpit, they could seal off all hopes of regaining control of the aircraft. The culprits can order the pilot, under threat, to steer the aircraft to their intended destination.

"Flight-conversant hijackers can also take control of the aircraft and fly it without being detected. This can be done after they disable all communications equipment, radio, transponder and text messaging Controller-Pilot Data Link Communication system by disengaging the circuit breakers," said another expert.

Aviation flight safety, aircraft manufacturers and enforcement officials are believed to be racing against time to push for the installation of secondary barriers, given the vulnerability during this transition period -- the opening and closing of the cockpit door during a flight.

"These are retractable, fence-like devices erected between the cockpit and cabin.

"We are also looking at more comprehensive, industry-wide security procedures for jetliners, such as improved screening technologies, making it mandatory to have air marshals and providing self-defence training for crew," said one of them.

Although such barriers are not impenetrable, aviators feel they can delay an attempted penetration.

"We have had countless discussions on this matter following 9/11 (the terror attack using hijacked aircraft on the United States on Sept 11, 2001). While more stringent procedures have been recommended, like opening and closing the cockpit door within five seconds and minimising the frequency, there are lapses," he said, adding that cockpit visits by non-crew or unauthorised persons were no longer allowed.

Another flight commander likened the scenario during medieval times when the castle was considered secure until the drawbridge was opened.

Without a moat or some other security barrier, the castle was vulnerable whenever the main gate is opened, he said.

Read more: 'Cockpit not locked all the time' - General - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general/cockpit-not-locked-all-the-time-1.515129#ixzz2wAAhl09V

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