Rules relaxed
 

Hijacker

SECURITY RULES RELAXED

shows up lack of cockpit defense

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - How can a single unarmed passenger hijack an international airliner?

With surprising ease, a 27-year-old Turkish man demonstrated on Tuesday by forcing his way into the cockpit of a Boeing 737 and forcing it to divert to Italy.

The bizarre incident showed that the introduction of locked, reinforced cockpit doors -- a much-publicized innovation following the September 11 hijack attacks on America five years ago -- is ineffective unless airline crew follow rigorous drills when opening and closing them.

"One person with no weapons was able to penetrate the entire security system of the airplane. What does it say about our airline security?" said Omer Laviv, an Israeli specialist in aviation security technology.

He said the episode sent a signal to hijackers: "You don't need weapons to hijack an aircraft -- you don't need anything ...This would make life for hijackers very easy".

Mursel Gokalp, pilot of the Turkish Airlines plane, told reporters that hijacker Hakan Ekinci had bluffed that he had three accomplices at the rear of the plane who would detonate plastic explosives unless his demands were met.

"I obeyed because he gave me the impression his friends were there because he was often looking to the back of the plane," the captain said. He added that Ekinci was a burly man who forced his way into the cockpit when a stewardess opened the door to ask the flight crew if they needed anything.

Philip Baum, a consultant who trains flight crews to deal with hijack scenarios, said airlines should have drills in place to protect the cockpit when the door is briefly opened -- something that is unavoidable, especially on longer flights, when the pilots need food or to go to the toilet.

"What we teach is ... you pull one of the galley trolleys across the aisle as an additional barrier before you open the cockpit door, or at the very least you put another crew member there, looking down the aisle," he said.

COMPLACENCY RISK

But analysts say some airlines, in practice, become complacent and tend to neglect the drills.

"Those cockpit doors swing backwards and forwards, (the cabin crew) will share a few words with the pilot and then come back out and lock the door again. In that space of time, anyone can get in there," said Chris Yates, aviation security expert at Jane's information group.

Baum said a potential drawback of the reinforced doors was that an attacker could close them behind him, preventing cabin crew from coming to the pilots' rescue and overpowering him. It was not clear if this was a factor in Tuesday's incident.

"It's all very well having these doors, but if a hijacker gets into the cockpit and closes the door behind him, he's actually sealed in there together with the captain and first officer," Baum said.

In Tuesday's drama, the flight from Tirana to Istanbul, carrying 107 passengers and six crew, landed safely at Brindisi airport in southern Italy, where the hijacker apologized, requested political asylum and was arrested. He turned out to have no weapon or accomplices.

Aviation analysts interviewed by Reuters said airlines have no absolute rules for responding to hijacks -- unlike other emergencies such as engine failure -- because each situation requires a judgment call from the pilot and crew. But the airline staff have to err on the side of caution.

"You can't afford to take any chances whatever with a multi-million-dollar aircraft stuffed full of people at 30-odd thousand feet," Yates said.

"Your prime duty is the safety of everybody on board that aircraft. As such, you just have to get it on the ground."

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