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Access to commercial aircraft cockpits overly secure ?

Published on 27/03/2015 05:00 - By

According to the prosecutor of Marseille (southern France), Brice Robin, in charge of the Germanwings A320 crash file, the first officer was quite alone in the cockpit during the last eight minutes of flight 4U 9525. The flight captain had been absent from the cockpit and could not regain access. Inside, the first officer did not open the cockpit door, despite the captain’s insistence.

Quite enough to question the access to commercial aircraft cockpits that conform to the strict regulations, in place since 11th September 2001 attacks. According to the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC), whom we contacted : « Airlines are under strict obligation to secure access to the cockpit. »

As shown in this 2002 Airbus video, access to the cockpit is now highly secured. During a flight, there are only two possibilities of entering.

Firstly, a person wishing to enter the cockpit has to call the flight crew via an intercom and request the opening of the door. The pilot can then unlock it using the cockpit door control toggle switch, which has three positions, by operating it upwards to the mode ‘‘UNLOCK’’.

Secondly, to enter the cockpit, a code, known only to the pilots and cabin crew, has to be entered via this keypad. An alarm then sounds in the cockpit indicating that someone wishes to enter.

If the cockpit door switch is set to ‘‘NORM’’, and no action is taken by the pilot inside the cockpit for thirty seconds, the door will unlock for five seconds. If the switch is lowered to ‘‘UNLOCK’’ mode, the door opens immediately. However, if ‘‘LOCK’’ mode is activated, the cockpit will remain locked and inaccessible from the exterior, making entry impossible, since the door is reinforced, and apparently tamper-proof.

This high security access to the cockpit, initially put in place to prevent the intrusion of terrorists, may then be, in the light of the last minutes of the Germanwings A320 flight, a double-edged sword.

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