The U.S aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, has officially shared details of a new rule that will require commercial aeroplanes to have a secondary flight deck barrier. This additional measure will improve safety for pilots in the cockpit. 

FAA puts pilot safety first

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently announced a new rule that has been made with the safety of pilots in mind. 

The proposed rule is the compulsory addition of a secondary flight deck barrier to prevent unauthorised intrusion when the cockpit door is opened. It will apply to almost all commercial passenger aircraft in operation in the U.S.

Pilots in the cockpit FAA pilot safety
The proposed rule was drawn up with the safety of pilots as the main focus. © Unifor

The cockpit door isn’t opened much, but certainly much more than you may initially assume. Instances where a pilot exits to use the bathroom or when a flight attendant delivers food and drinks to the pilots are all moments by which security could be breached. When enacting safety policies, it is always better to remain cautious as it only takes one moment for things to go south. 

FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen explained why the rule is so important when making the announcement: 

“Each additional layer of safety matters. Protecting flight crews helps keep our system the safest in the world.”

However, the proposed role would require aircraft manufacturers to install a secondary barrier for all commercial aircraft manufactured two years after the rule’s official approval. 

How would the secondary flight deck barrier look?

While the exact specifics of the secondary barrier are still being determined, the ultimate goal is to “have an installed physical secondary barrier that protects the flight deck from unauthorized intrusion when the flight deck door is opened”, according to the FAA rule proposal.

The barrier would not just be a solid door. But it would “still permit line-of-sight visibility between the flight deck door and the cabin”. This mock-up offers an intriguing idea:

ALPA's proposed secondary flight deck barrier inline with FAA rule
ALPA’s proposed secondary flight deck barrier. © ALPA

Long overdue improvements to cockpit safety

Concerns around the sanctity of the safety of pilots in the cockpit and potential rules and guidelines to improve safety have been lingering for quite a while. In 2007, the FAA issued guidance for pilot safety procedures to be used when the main flight deck is opened. 

And, most notably, following the 9/11 attacks, the FAA quickly got to work on the reinforcement of flight deck doors. They were strengthened and secured and unable to be opened from the aircraft’s passenger cabin. Policies were also put in place to ensure that the door is locked at all times and only opened infrequently (when a pilot needs to exit or when the flight crew needs to enter). 

aircraft cockpit from a passengers perspective
The cockpit has been significantly reinforced following 9/11. © Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, pilots welcome this rule proposal from the FAA. Joe DePete is President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. ALPA is the largest pilot union in the world, advocating and representing more than 65,000 pilots at 40 United States and Canadian airlines. 

“I am pleased that the FAA has finally taken the first step toward addressing this vulnerability after years of delay—delays caused by airline opposition and that have resulted in thousands of planes coming into service since 2001 without this critical security enhancement,” commented DePete on the new rule.

The Air Line Pilots Association is lobbying for Congress to also require existing planes to be fitted with a similar secondary barrier. This proposal, encased in the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Act, is before Congress at the time of writing. 

Those parties interested in the introduction of a secondary flight deck barrier have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule once it is published in the U.S Federal Register. Following those 60 days, the FAA will publish the final details of the rule.

What do you make of the FAA’s plan to reinforce the cockpit even further? Share your opinions with us in the comments below!

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