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Thomas Roger: Self-protection for airline flight crews

Thomas Roger is a Connecticut-based engineer and attorney. Mr. Roger is the father of Jean Roger, a flight attendant who was on board American Airlines flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. Thomas Roger joined the chat room from Connecticut.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Thomas Roger, and welcome.

THOMAS ROGER: My name is Tom Roger, and I'm the father of Jean Roger, who was a flight attendant on flight 11.

CNN: What measures do you think would be appropriate to beef up airport security?

ROGER: It covers a variety of areas, and let me just go down them, point by point. First, and I know it's a subject receiving a great deal of attention today, is providing some sort of armed protection for the crew and the pilots in the aircraft. My recommendation is that you have that in the cockpit, in terms of weapons, handguns, or something along that line. Beyond that, to have some form of protection available for the flight attendants in the main cabin.

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Second would be to change the existing hijack policies to make it clear what types of actions the crew should be permitted to take, in the event of a hijacking. This covers cabin depressurization, aircraft maneuvers and communication policies.

Third, and very controversial, but I think also very important, is to eliminate carry-on baggage, except for small personal items.

Fourth would be the strengthening of the cockpit doors, or providing some sort of double door system.

Fifth would be improving the communications within the plane and ground communications, in the event of this type of situation. Specifically, video camera observation, panic alarms and providing a 911 type of service from the airphone system.

Sixth would be an improvement of the examination of checked baggage, and a system which links baggage to who is on the plane. Specifically, that the passenger must fly on the plane with his checked baggage.

Seventh would be improvement to the transponder system to prevent it from being disabled in the event of a hijacking.

Last, and also fairly controversial, would be the development of a web page to provide information on suspicious persons, and tools to allow the airlines and others to have a better identification process.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are the problems with isolating the cockpit from the rest of the plane?

ROGER: The downside is the fact that the passengers and the flight attendants could be subject to violence, as occurred on the hijackings the other day, and even though the pilots may be protected such that they could land the plane, this still may allow substantial violence to occur in the plane itself.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Wouldn't it be better to install cameras for monitoring than guns?

ROGER: I believe you need cameras for monitoring anyway, but in the event you have four or five hijackers intent upon taking control of the plane, all a camera would do be allow you to see them coming the break down the door. The pilot and crew have to have some means to protect themselves against hijackers, and aggressive passengers for that matter.

CNN: How do you strike the balance between protecting individuals' rights to privacy and making sure travelers are not carrying any items that could be used as weapons aboard?

ROGER: When you travel on an airplane, I believe you give up a number of rights to privacy with regards to any object that could be used as a weapon, as witnessed in the events of September 11. It's imperative that passengers and people on the ground have some confidence that the security and screening process eliminate any of these types of objects from the plane. I would add that this is one of the arguments behind my recommendation to eliminate or greatly scale back carry-on baggage. If someone doesn't want their suitcases searched, and their underwear dragged out on the table, they should not bring that on the plane.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think flight attendants should be trained in martial arts or other forms of self-protection?

ROGER: Yes, I support that recommendation for those flight attendants that would want that type of training. I would also support some sort of active protection devices, specifically mace and some sort of stun weapon -- nothing that could be taken from them and used to cause an escalating hostage situation, but something that would allow them to have some physical protection from hijackers, or from a really aggressive passenger.

In recent years, there has been discussion of having the flight attendants having mace to protect themselves from assault from passengers, and unfortunately this has not been a changed policy. I venture to say that if some of the flight attendants had mace or weapons the other day, they might have been able to avert the events that occurred.

CNN: In a recent article you wrote, you talk about "defense in depth." What does that mean?

ROGER: Defense in depth is a series of active systems and policies, and passive building or equipment design, that gives an ever-increasing level of intensity to the defense as you get closer to what you're trying to defend. To explain that, the current airline safety system uses that somewhat in concept, in that you go through an initial screening process when you check in, you go through a security checkpoint which checks your baggage, and go through a metal detector.

At that point is where the system breaks down, because there's no additional levels of defense protecting either the airplane, or the passengers and crew. Where this approach is used successfully, the levels of security and intensity of protection increase as you get closer to what you're trying to secure.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Don't you worry that the crew's or pilot's weapons could be used against them by terrorists?

ROGER: Yes. I believe that a system should be developed where the weapon that could be used by the pilots should be in some sort of lock box in the cockpit that is quickly accessible by the pilot or copilot, but not easily accessible by anyone else. I do not support pilots walking around packing magnums or some sort of serious weapon, such that they could become the initial target, and providing the person with a weapon that would help them carry out their intent.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: My deepest condolences first... do you believe pilots should have the responsibility of protecting passengers in case of violence in the cabin? Or should some other person on the plane be responsible for cabin violence?

ROGER: Thank you for your sympathy. I appreciate that very much. To answer your question, the pilots are ultimately responsible for the safety of the plane and passengers, and should have the ability to defend themselves, the crew, and passengers. However, the Federal Aviation Authority program to provide armed marshals is a very good program, and could allow the pilots to not have to arm themselves in that there would be armed protection for them on the plane. As I understand it, the FAA is not intending to have armed marshals for every flight.

CNN: What role does the passenger play in airline safety?

ROGER: The passengers should have the ability to assist the crew in protection of themselves as well as the airplane. Current policies as I understand them discourage any involvement of passengers in the process. This is a very difficult subject, because passengers certainly should not be expected to have to provide such defensive measures, nor would the crew have any way of knowing their ability to assist them, or their training and capabilities.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

ROGER: My interest in this area is obviously to do something to protect the wonderful crew members of American Airlines and all of the airlines, in performing their jobs. I believe that policies over the years have put them in a situation where they have become targets and they are unable to effectively carry out their jobs in any kind of aggressive or hostile situation. It's imperative that the FAA and the federal government consider changing policies and allow for the identification process and for actual defensive measures to be carried out by crew members.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

ROGER: Thank you everyone for participating, and I'd hope that all of you would join me in supporting these types of changes, so that we can reestablish the credibility of our airline safety program.

Thomas Roger joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the chat which took place on Tuesday, September 25, 2001.


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