Eternal Vigilance

Pilot Commentary

By Capt. Wolfgang Koch (Delta), Chair, ALPA Aviation Security Group

In the two decades that have passed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, ALPA’s Air Safety Organization (ASO) and the airline industry have enhanced aviation security and kept the promise made on that dark day to “never forget” and to diligently work to prevent a future tragedy from occurring.

Due to collaboration and common purpose, the list of our accomplishments is vast, but there’s still much to be done. As a member of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), I, working with the other committee members, advise the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on aviation security matters, including the development, refinement, and implementation of policies, programs, rulemaking, and security directives pertaining to aviation security. ASAC is the voice of those directly affected by aviation security requirements.

In addition, I chaired the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee working group that was tasked with developing the technical standards for secondary flight deck barriers to provide an additional layer of security aboard our aircraft. The recent rise in disruptive passenger events has demonstrated the need to advance secondary barriers as an additional defense to protect flight deck access and airline pilots in the event of an assault, be it an organized terrorist action or an unruly passenger. While the FAA has declared a “zero-tolerance policy for unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers” and levied heavy fines against perpetrators, that’s all done after the fact and does nothing to proactively deter those from taking part in these types of incidents.

While the legislation needed to mandate secondary flight deck barriers was signed into law for newly manufactured airliners as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the FAA has failed to issue a final regulation for almost three years. This relatively inexpensive barrier is a highly effective countermeasure that needs to be implemented immediately. In response, ALPA has initiated a Call to Action to support H.R. 911 and S. 911, the legislative efforts to mandate secondary barriers on all airliners, not just those that are newly manufactured.

In the event of an attack on board an aircraft, participants of the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program act as a last line of defense to defend and secure the flight deck. The TSA recently added a recurrent training program (RTP) facility in Atlanta, Ga., that’s operational on a part-time basis to assist in keeping FFDOs ready to serve, and we’re advocating that this facility be operational full time and that an RTP facility be added on the West Coast. ALPA is also continuing to press for initial FFDO training at the facilities in Atlantic City, N.J., which would strengthen the program for years to come by providing pilots the tools and know-how needed to protect the aircraft if the situation arises.

While the need for the FFDO program to maintain adequate funding and grow remains a priority, I’m also increasingly concerned about the safety and security of cargo aircraft and those aboard due to the continued lack of a requirement for an intrusion-resistant flight deck door. In addition, the FAA has allowed deviations from restrictions, which have increased the opportunities for insider threat, and has avoided regulations meant to secure pilots from threats.

For far too long, a dangerous double standard has existed for cargo-carrying pilots and passenger-carrying pilots when it comes to common safety and security provisions, as current regulatory requirements allow relatively unfettered access to the cargo flight deck during flight operations.

In late July, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would mandate the installation of an intrusion-resistant flight deck door on aircraft used in all-cargo airline operations. ALPA is calling on the House and Senate to quickly pass this important safeguard into law to protect pilots, their cargo, and the communities that they serve.

In 1790, orator John Philpot Curran stated, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” ALPA’s ASO pilot representatives are all working tirelessly—keeping the vigil alive and doing the necessary work—to stop the enemies of freedom, foreign or domestic, from using the tools of our industry to purposefully do harm.

This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)