Flight decks get bullet-proof doors
LONDON, England -- Bullet-proof doors on flight decks are being introduced on for the first time on European passenger planes.
Airline companies in Britain and Germany are leading a review of cabin security in the wake of the September 11 terror hijackings in the United States.
Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Atlantic airline, said the armour-plated cockpit door was a "necessary safety change."
The bullet-proof doors are being fitted to Virgin's fleet of 30 jets.
British Airways is also conducting similar security measures and will fit full-length armour-plating to reinforce cockpit door exteriors and stop intruders reaching the flight deck on all its 340 planes.
In Germany, Lufthansa AG has strengthened cockpit doors on its long-haul planes and hopes to complete work by the end of this year on the rest of its fleet, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
Thomas Jachnow declined to give details of the new security features, although he said they include a more complicated locking mechanism.
The airline has also said it will put sky marshals on planes and add new background checks for employees.
The first door on a Virgin Atlantic jet was installed on a New York-bound 747 200 from London Heathrow, renamed The Spirit of New York.
It flew on Wednesday carrying some British emergency personnel to help with the recovery effort in New York.
Branson told CNN's Diana Muriel: "I am completely confident that we have done absolutely everything that is necessary to withstand a terrorist attack but the absolutely critical thing is not to let terrorists on board planes."
He said: "It's obviously a pity that it is necessary because in the past visits from children to the flight deck was very much part of the travelling experience, but something had to change after September 11.
"The most important thing is that people feel a 100 percent safe about travelling.
"We are making sure that people who should not be in the cockpit do not get access to it. Our crew are being trained by the SAS on how to deal with certain incidents on the plane and we are trying to make sure that what happen in the U.S. does not happen here."
The Virgin door has an aluminium and steel deadbolt on the inside and is the most visible of a series of bolstered security measures, both inflight and on the ground, introduced after the September 11 attacks, the airline said.
The doors are bullet, heat and shock-proof and have digital locks, while closed circuit television monitors pointing from the cockpit to the cabin help to ensure that only authorised staff gain entry.
These measures will be in place on all planes by the end of November, Virgin said.
A second armour-plated door leading to the cockpit -- creating a double barrier to would-be terrorists -- should be installed within three months, Sir Richard said.
British Airways said its installation of the metal plate, designed and produced in-house by BA engineers, has started and the first plane to be fitted with the new improvements will be flying on Friday.
David Hyde, director of safety and security at BA, said: "Safety and security are our top priority and the bedrock of our reputation.
"Our passengers can be certain that we will do everything in our power to continue to ensure that they have a safe and secure flight with us."
The UK Press Association reported that equipping the BA fleet will cost more than £1 million.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who renamed the Virgin plane, said: "With these doors being introduced today no-one is going to get through them.
"People can be absolutely confident that when flying from a British airport that anyone who should not be there is going to get into the cockpit. It will be safer flying across the Atlantic than crossing the road in London."
On Wednesday, Air France said specially trained security agents would be introduced onsome flights.
The measures being adopted by European airlines follow steps in the U.S. to strengthen security on planes.
Early in October U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta asked airlines to reinforce the cockpit doors on their aircraft, and directed the Federal Aviation Administration to take any steps necessary to help with the move.
Mineta also announced the creation of a $20 million grant to develop and install new technology for better security aboard aircraft.
American Airlines -- two of whose planes features in the September 11 hijackings -- has promised an "an all-out effort" to fit all 712 American planes and all 169 TWA planes fitted with reinforced cockpit doors by early November. American Airlines acquired TWA earlier this year.
In the U.S. legislation is going through Congress at the moment to improve airline security.
Both the House and Senate bills are based on recommendations President George W. Bush made last month -- including federal marshals on airplanes, increased cockpit security and hijack training for pilots.
One U.S. airline, Mesa, has begun training its pilots to carry and use non-lethal stun guns in the cockpit.
The airline is using Taser brand stun guns, which fire a wired dart at targets 15 feet away and administers a high voltage shock to render to the victims helpless.
The U.S. Airline Pilots Association recently called for arming pilots.
Among those on Wednesday's Virgin flight was Barbara D'Avino, UK national fundraiser for the UK's Fire Service National Benevolent fund, who will be discussing how the £3 million the organisation has raised can best be used in the United States.
D'Avino hopes to help the U.S. set up a benevolent fund and deliver special toys called trauma teddy bears which provide comfort to children who have been hit by a tragedy.
She said: "The U.S. helped us set up the British Benevolent fund after The Blitz. We would be returning the favour.
"I'm sure trying to help and seeing Ground Zero is going to be very distressing, but I'm sure they would do the same for us."
Sam Ade, 22, a firefighter from Ryde, Isle of Wight, who was also on the Virgin flight said: "I've lost mates in the past from the profession. It is very distressing. Here in England it's hard to take on board the scale of what has happened.
"This is just showing them that they have support from everyone."
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