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Airlines move swiftly to secure cockpits

By Thurston Hatcher

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- One day after the terrorist hijackings last month, engineers at a North Carolina aircraft maintenance company began brainstorming about ways to help airlines boost plane security.

This week, Delta Airlines announced it would install Greensboro-based TIMCO's new "Secure Cockpit System" in its entire fleet, joining several major airlines that are retrofitting cockpit doors in the wake of the attacks.

The TIMCO system, a steel security bar designed to withstand force of up to 1,500 pounds, should help put passengers and crew at ease, said Rick Salanitri, the company's vice president of engineering.

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"They'll know that there is a very remote chance of blunt force entry," he said.

Delta, Continental, US Airways, American and Alaska Airlines are among the airlines to announce various cockpit door reinforcements, which most plan to have ready in 30 to 45 days.

Delta described the security bars as the first phase of the aviation industry's broader plan to bolster cockpit security.

"We continue to implement and consider a number of security enhancements to ensure our customers have safe and secure transportation," Delta spokeswoman Cindy Kurczewski said.

Continental said it has worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and the plane manufacturers to develop its own restraint, which it said is similar to a deadbolt or crossbar.

Chuck Eastlake, a professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, said the technology for the reinforcements seems to be relatively basic.

"Simple doesn't necessarily mean it's not a good idea," he said. "Right now I think to make everyone feel more comfortable, there's a big emphasis on something that can be done quickly."

Indeed, the TIMCO kits can be installed overnight, Salanitri said. He declined to say how much they cost but called them "very, very inexpensive."

As part of a broader effort to improve security, President Bush and industry leaders have pushed for measures to protect the cockpit.

An airline security task force, made up of representatives from airlines, aircraft makers, pilots and flight attendants unions, recommended the cockpit door reinforcements. The Air Line Pilots Association called secure cockpit doors and locks one of its top priorities

It wasn't so long ago that some planes had no cockpit door at all.

"I can remember very clearly being on airplanes in which the cockpit was separated from passengers by a curtain," Eastlake said.

Then, a rash of hijackings in the 1960s and '70s was followed by an effort to install doors and locks.

"There have been people all along who felt that design changes should have gone further, and that doors should have been stronger and locks should have been stronger," he said.


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