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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 18:02 GMT
Anti-terrorist cockpit doors 'dangerous'
Virgin Atlantic's Captain Ian Belmore
Access to the cockpit will be controlled by pilots
Bullet-proof cockpit doors being introduced by British airlines pose a greater risk to passengers than hijackers, according to the main pilots union.

The union spoke out against the use of deadlocks on the doors as work began to install them on all British Airways and Virgin Atlantic planes.

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which represents 75% of British crews, said: "The idea of deadlocks on cockpit doors which could not be reached from the pilots' seats was ill-considered, ill-conceived and potentially dangerous."

The International Federation of Airline Pilots' Association president, Captain Ted Murphy, told BBC News Online that reinforced doors were no substitute for better airport security.

He said: "If the cockpit door is the last means of defending the aircraft it means these people have got on board."

Serious concerns

Balpa said the idea of improving cockpit security was a sensible one, but proper consultation was needed on design.

We are making sure that people who should not be in the cockpit do not get access to it

Sir Richard Branson
General secretary Christopher Darke said: "An instant introduction poses a far higher risk to aviation safety than that posed from hijackers."

He said that if a pilot became ill the other pilot would be unable to get help without leaving the controls to unlock the door.

And if both pilots were incapacitated, possibly by smoke inhalation, it would be impossible to reach the controls in a cockpit fortress.

Mr Darke added that strengthened doors also carried the risk of the cockpit floor collapsing in the event of violent depressurisation in the plane, a danger avoided by the current flimsy design.

The claims were rejected by Virgin Atlantic, which said all flights with the new doors would have three people in the cabin, with the chance of all three being struck down simultaneously "tiny".

Spirit of New York

The first bullet, heat and shock-proof door to be installed on a Virgin Atlantic plane is on the re-named Spirit of New York, which carried British recovery teams to the city on Wednesday.

Virgin Atlantic's Spirit of New York
Virgin's Spirit of New York
They will be in place on all Virgin Atlantic's 30 planes by the end of November, along with CCTV monitors showing pilots a view of the cabin.

Virgin said the improvements, including a second armour-plated door leading to be fitted as standard within 18 months, are intended to supplement better security on the ground and not to replace it.

The first British Airways plane to be fitted with the new improvements will be flying on Friday, and the work is expected to be completed within several weeks.

BA, which is spending 1m on beefed-up security, said: "We see it (the deadlocks) as an interim solution. We continue to look at ways we can continue to improve security."

The BBC's Simon Montague
"The first planes to be fitted are due to fly"
See also:

26 Sep 01 | Business
UN agency reviews airline security
03 Oct 01 | Americas
US airlines to reinforce cockpits
21 Sep 01 | UK
Q & A: Airport security
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