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Lingering Inadequacies in Post 9/11 Security

By Lori J. Brown
January 14, 2008

Post 9-11 Flight Attendant/Pilot communication and security training requirements. Are they adequate to reflect our current threat environment? Brown, a faculty specialist at the Western Michigan College of Aviation reviews what still needs to be done to protect our skies.

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The events of September 11th, 2001, have magnified the importance of flight attendants protecting the safety of passengers and crew, as well as providing critical information to the pilots. The events of September 11th have changed forever our concepts of aviation safety. The use of a hijacked aircraft as a weapon requires a new strategy to ensure that the crew always retains control of the aircraft. Flight Attendants have an immediate need for updated security training. This training should include basic defense maneuvers to allow them to defend themselves and slow down any terrorist attack. Crew communication and coordination should be integrated into this training. Currently, there is no comprehensive training that explains what the flight attendants, pilots and air marshals do in case of an attack. These groups should be trained to work together as a team, to be as effective as possible. (This information was made evident in the testimony of Patricia Friend, International President, Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, AFL-CIO, before the subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection of the homeland security committee, U.S. House of representatives, November 1, 2007.)

The attempts of those valiant flight attendants onboard United Airlines flight 93, to provide vital information to those on the ground, as well as their defensive actions, serve as alarming reminders that the cabin crew is essential to the safety of the aircraft and passengers. Effective communication and synergy between the flight deck and cabin crew has never been more significant and challenging. If an emergency or terrorist attack should occur it is imperative that the crew works effectively. Lack of joint security training exercises, a reluctance to contact the flight deck, and misunderstanding the "sterile cockpit rule," (F.A.R. 121.542) all create a dangerous gap in communication and coordination, further impeded by the cockpit door strengthening requirements, mandated as a result of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Errors have been documented which illustrate the convergence of barriers in information transfer between the flight attendants and pilots and the anticipated stress related effects on communication (Chute 1996).

In light of 9/11 and post 9/11 events, we cannot afford to have any barriers that would impede effective communication and coordination between the cockpit and the cabin crew. The tension of an emergency or attack would only complicate human interactions, which could prove to be devastating in a sudden onboard emergency. Previous research has explored the coordination of "two cultures" between the pilots and flight attendants - in particular, the situation when the flight attendants have safety related information and have to decide whether to tell the pilots. The results have shown confusion and reluctance about when it is permissible and what information to take to the cockpit.

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One of the most poignant examples occurred on March 10, 1989, when 21 people were killed on board Air Ontario's F-28 that crashed on takeoff from Dryden, Canada due to ice accumulation on the wings. As the aircraft waited for takeoff, a flight attendant, Sonia Hartwick, saw the snow accumulation on the wings of the aircraft. She did not call the cockpit to tell the pilots because she thought the pilots did not welcome operational information from the flight attendants. In the past she felt that she had appeared stupid when relating safety concerns to the pilots. Hartwick testified that she had the feeling that Air Ontario's management was not supportive of flight attendants voicing operational concerns. She placed an inordinate amount of faith in the pilots being aware of every situation and believed that their professionalism and training would suffice (Moshansky 1992). One off duty pilot was also concerned about the snow, but was reluctant to inform the flight deck.

Research by Helmreich has shown that individuals under stress tend to be more obedient and supplicant to authority figures. Junior crew members can become so passive and differential that they fail to supply the vital information needed. Unfortunately, the events of September 11th have taken this to a new level, and compounded these communication barriers with a lack of security training amongst flight attendants. The new reinforced cockpit doors also impede further communication and separate the two groups, leaving the flight attendants on there own to handle any potential volatility in the cabin.

In May 2004, The Association of Flight Attendants demanded that the Transportation Security Administration require the nation's airlines to provide flight attendants with security training. More than 100 flight attendants rallied on Capitol Hill to reintroduce legislation that would require airlines to give attendants mandatory counterterrorism training. "It is unconscionable that the decision of who should be trained and to what extent they should be trained should be left to the airlines," said Alice Hoglan, a former United Airlines flight attendant whose son, Mark Bingham, died during the Sept. 11th attacks as a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93.

The presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and The Transport Workers Union Local 556 gave the TSA about 10,000 letters written by flight attendants demanding that the airlines' security training programs be thoroughly examined and reconsidered.

"On September 11th 2001, 25 heroic flight attendants lost their lives trying to protect their passengers and the cockpit," said Patricia Friend. "Implementing comprehensive, mandatory security training is the only way to give flight attendants and our passengers a fighting chance in the event of another terrorist attack. We owe it to the memory of the flight attendants that we lost, and we owe it to the flight attendants who go to work every day."

"Today, flight attendants remain the front-line first responders guaranteed to be in the cabin of every single passenger aircraft operating in this country," Patricia Friend told members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. "You'd think that we would have been among the first to be given the tools and training to protect ourselves, our passengers and the aircraft."

On three separate occasions, Congress has specifically acknowledged the urgent need for Flight Attendant security training:

•The Air Transportation Security Act (2001) - required the FAA to update and improve air carriers' existing flight attendant security training programs to reflect the new terrorist environment. Because it did not contain specifics on exactly what the training should include, each carrier instituted their own program, so the type of training and time spent on the training varies from carrier to carrier.

•The Homeland Security Act (2002) - mandated comprehensive, industry-wide, flight attendant security training standards to be developed by security experts at the Transportation Security Administration.

•The FAA Reauthorization Act (2003) - the original language in this legislation contained a basic, mandatory level of security training including provisions for crew communication and coordination, terrorist psychology, and basic moves to defend oneself, a voluntary advanced level of training which would include more aggressive methods of self-defense and be more physical in nature, and a requirement that the TSA must develop regulations and guidelines for these trainings. At the last minute the language for the basic security training was changed from the TSA "shall" issue these guidelines to the TSA "may" issue these guidelines. By changing this one word, the ability to force TSA to issue industry-wide guidelines was removed, and some airlines have succeeded in keeping flight attendant security almost non-existent.

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Patricia Friend speaks vigorously about these serious gaps in security training and procedures in place for flight attendants. Friend is the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents 55,000 flight attendants at 20 carriers. "Unbelievably, over six years after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 we still have not been trained to appropriately handle a security crisis onboard on our airplanes. On September 11th, 25 heroic flight attendants lost their lives trying to protect their passengers and the security of the flight deck. Their wrists were bound, their throats slashed, and they died with the knowledge they would no longer be there to help those whom they were entrusted to protect."

"Unfortunately, I am here to report to you that nothing has changed since that horrible day. We are no better prepared today to handle a situation like that which occurred on September 11th and our training is still woefully inadequate."

Congress has taken many actions to improve the overall safety of the aviation system. Screeners have been federalized and are receiving updated training. Screening procedures have been tightened. Flight deck doors are now reinforced, many pilots carry guns, and armed federal air marshals are on select flights. There are new procedures in place for many aspects of aviation security. However there is still one crucial link missing. "The needs of flight attendants in order to adequately perform their roles in making the aviation system more secure have been delayed, denied and ignored. Our skies are not safe and they will not be safe until flight attendants receive the training necessary to protect our passengers from another September 11."

In addition to outdated security training, the aircraft cabin lacks some basic equipment that is meaningful to security. Currently, the only communication device available for cabin and flight deck crew is aircraft interphone. A telephone like device, the flight attendants use for public announcements, and communicate with the flight deck.

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The Aircraft Interphone

When various federal agencies conducted mock terrorist attacks (June 2005, Operation Atlas), one of the first things the mock terrorists did was to cut the phone cord, restricting communication between the cabin and cockpit. A device, such as a cost effective wireless communication system, would provide a tool for the flight attendants to contact the pilot at the earliest possible moment. The air marshals could use a similar device to contact support on the ground.

Current research is aimed at implementing steps toward making recommendations for industry-wide, comprehensive joint pilot/flight attendant security training, aimed at closing the gap between pilot/flight attendant communications and providing recommendations for enhanced joint security training. "A properly trained flight attendant can be our best security asset to help protect against those weapons that are still clearly making it onboard and act as the eyes and ears to the pilots in the flight deck. Our goal is to allow the flight attendants to contact the flight deck and let the pilots know that security has been breached, while using effective security training skills to slow down the attacker, to allow the pilots to land the airplane."

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The Washington Post reported in December 2002 that air marshals still shoot the flight attendant mock-up in their training simulations and are still graduating from the program. Doesn't it make more sense to train that flight attendant to assist in a crisis rather than to be a human shield? Both FFDO's and air marshals have stated it would be their preference to have the flight attendants as trained allies, with the skills, the knowledge and the ability to foil a terrorist. Flight attendants are the front line safety personnel on the aircraft, as recognized by the 9-11 Commission. It was logical and clear to the flight attendants of this country that their training needed to be updated in order for them to effectively fulfill their role in protecting the safety and security of passengers.

In summary, the existing flight attendant security training may need to be changed to reflect the current security and threats that flight attendants may face onboard an aircraft. Training discrepancies in the aviation system leave many flight attendants unprepared for future terrorist attacks onboard an aircraft. A basic, mandatory level of security training that includes a number of provisions such as crew communication and coordination, terrorist psychology, and basic defensive physical maneuvers is immediately necessary. Also, the installation of wireless communication devices is vitally important, as is allows the pilots, air marshals (if present), and flight attendants to communicate, coordinate, and react as a team.

"The only people who were successful in saving lives on September 11th were those flight attendants who actually abandoned their training. With the help of their passengers they prevented Flight 93 from being used as a missile. Despite their training to acquiesce, they fought back. Yes, they still lost their lives, but they lost them saving the lives of countless others. Let's not allow the lesson they taught us be in vain" (Friend 2004).

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ASRS Search Request #5280, Part 121/135 "Emergency Evacuation Incidents," December 1, 1999.

Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1995a). "Cockpit/Cabin Communication: I. A Tale of Two Cultures." The International Journal of Aviation Psychology. 5 (3), 257-276.

Code of Federal Regulations (2007) F.A.R. 121.542. Washington, D.C. Federal Aviation Administration.

Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1996). "Cockpit/Cabin Communication: II. Shall We Tell the Pilots?" The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 6 93), 211-231.

Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1995b). "Cockpit/Cabin Communication: Recent Research." The Proceedings of the 48th International Air Safety Seminar, Seattle WA.

Friend, Patricia, May 2004, "Full Committee Hearing: Aviation Security," November 2004.

Friend, Patricia, "The Testimony of Ms. Patricia Friend, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA," The Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection of the Homeland Security Committee, November, 1, 2007.

"Rossenburg, Union Leaders Call for Airport Security Training," November 2007, Govexec.com.

Written by
Lori J. Brown

Lori Brown is uniquely qualified to write this article, with over 20 years of diverse avaition experience. She started as a Flight Attendant and moved on to be come a Professional Pilot with over 6,000 hours of flight time. She now teaches at WMU's, College of Aviation, as a Faculty Specialist. She can be contacted by email at lori.brown@wmich.edu.

7 User Comments:
Username: Aspkt [User Info]
Posted 2008-02-13 09:16:55 and read 32768 times.

I feel that one of the most important factors is "not knowing".
Too many times we hear how someone failed a screening test, how a new type of door or new type of communication has now been put in place.
I agree that all of these things have to be done. Tests must be carried out.
However, i feel that we should not be advertising what we did and how we may have failed in a particular test.
The information should be kept indoors so as updated method can be introduced without any outsiders being made aware.
Why must those who find the shorcomings or the weak points in the system, then go and advertise the facts to those who may be waiting to try again.
I just wish it would all be kept quiet.
Keep it underwraps and use the failure as a teaching tool, not as an adverting tool.

Username: Avtraveler [User Info]
Posted 2008-02-18 15:19:08 and read 32768 times.

The comments from user (Aspkt) are valid and appreciated. I agree, however, unfortunately all of the government testimonies, hearings, and GAO reports used to gather information for the article, are public information.
I do hope that this article gets the attention of industry professionals and educators, who can contribute to improve these areas.
As a result of feedback from pilots and flight attendants around the world, we have already seen some educational improvements. Western Michigan University has developed a "Cabin Security Research Team" to further investigate these issues, as well as, "low time" regional pilots with no crew or flight attendant experience. Some of which are going to the right seat of CRJ (or similar) with as low as 300 hours.
With industry collaboration we can close the gaps in these areas. Many improvements have already been made to aviation security and safety. Let's continue to improve and change as our environment changes.

Username: PeterDStokes [User Info]
Posted 2008-03-06 02:44:13 and read 32768 times.

Interesting article. I agree wholeheartedly with the need for good communication between cabin and cockpit, in particular in the event of trouble in the cabin be it from terrorist or deranged passenger. The cabin crew need to be able to alert the cockpit discreetly [if its not then it puts the wellbeing of the cabin crew at risk] of such dangers, and therebye prewarn the cockpit of possible attempts to enter the cockpit.
The FAA issued new rules in October 2007 to provide means for cabin crew to 'discreetly' warn the cockpit crew of problems in the cabin. However by reducing the compliance time from an expected 2 years to 6 months they effectively precluded the use of wireless devices in favour of the use of cabin interphones, despite strong lobbying at the NPRM stage by cabin crew unions, pilots and passenger associations FOR the use of discrete wireless devices. The FAA seemed swayed by set of uninformed and inaccurate opinions that such devices would be expensive and 'insecure'. The facts are completely different.
STG Aerospace used the comments from the NPRM process to develop CAMS, a wireless device that is an ultra secure cabin alert and monitoring system, using small donut shaped alarm units held on person of each cabin crew, and which, when activated, sends an alarm signal to the cockpit, effectively warning them of trouble, and the expectation of escalation of that trouble to the cockpit. The signal also tells the cockpit exactly where in the aircraft the alarm was triggered, and therefore an indication of the time which may be available to them to undertake appropriate actions before attempts at intrusions to the cockpit. The system also provides a means of voice communication between cabin crew and pilot at the cockpit door, and combined with the use of the door peephole provides the pilots with a good means of monitoring if anyone wishing entry to the cockpit is under stress and possible coercion. The system is aircraft specific, extremely secure, has 'designed in' safeguards against inadvertant activation, and meets all the needs of those most closely affected - the pilots, cabin crew and passengers.
ATA have said they think the use of video cameras at cockpit doors is expensive, unnecessary and possibly ineffective when all aircraft now have door peepholes, whilst the Association of Professional Flight Attendants "strongly supports the need for hands-free wireless communications devices, which is not available through the current aircraft interphone systems, now effectively mandated by the FAA." APFA said flight attendants spend much of their time in aircraft aisles away from interphones located in service galleys and near their jump seats. "A flight attendant who suspects a security breach and is working in the cabin could potentially be half the distance of the aircraft away from notifying the flight crew of the threat," APFA officials stated.
Cost of wireless devices was also cited as a reason for not mandating wireless devices, but CAMS costs just $5K for a B737 up to $9K for a B747, with minimal installation cost, providing, in combination with the existing door peephole, a discreet monitoring sytem for the whole aircraft.
Compare this with the cost of around $12K for a cockpit door video system which provides no means of voice communication, and one despairs of an FAA decision process which rejects the views of those most affected, in favour of spurious hype as to the cost and effectiveness of a the best discreet device available.
The flying public, and those who work onboard aircraft deserve priority consideration from regulators - they have not got it from this latest ruling.

Username: Starlionblue [User Info]
Posted 2008-05-21 04:57:34 and read 32768 times.

Excellent article.

I am firmly convinced that most legislators feel a greater need to appear decisive than to actually be decisive.

As a parallel to the "in the air" aspect discussed in this article, may I point the interested reader to an excellent treatise on the airport security aspect written less than a week after 9/11:

Username: Starlionblue [User Info]
Posted 2008-05-21 04:59:26 and read 32768 times.

Excellent article.

I am firmly convinced that most legislators feel a greater need to appear decisive than to actually be decisive.

As a parallel to the "in the air" aspect discussed in this article, may I point the interested reader to an excellent treatise on the airport security aspect written less than a week after 9/11: http://www.keepandbeararms.com/information/XcIBViewItem.asp?ID=2459.

Username: Newdan [User Info]
Posted 2008-07-09 16:26:10 and read 32768 times.

great article!

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-01 18:09:34 and read 32768 times.

amazing article!!!

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