U.S. House representatives have advanced an airplane safety priority inspired by a Bucks County, Pennsylvania, resident who lost his life during the 9/11 attack.
Lawmakers moved one step closer Friday toward enacting a requirement for lightweight wire-mesh cockpit barriers to be installed on new passenger aircraft. Language covering that requirement was part of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which would grant the agency about $4.35 billion for each of the next five years. The House approved it by a 393-13 vote.
A similar cockpit barrier mandate was central to the separate Saracini Aviation Safety Act, which Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, Pennsylvania, introduced last year. The bill’s namesake, Captain Victor J. Saracini, of Lower Makefield, was piloting United Airlines Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked the jetliner and crashed it into the World Trade Center in New York City.
If the Senate and President Donald Trump approve the reauthorization bill as-is later this year, the cockpit barriers — estimated to cost between $5,000 and $12,000 per plane — would go between new planes’ passenger cabins and cockpit doors, blocking access to the flight deck whenever the pilot opens the door for meals or restroom use.
Fitzpatrick described the vote Friday as a “key step” in terms of airplane safety.
“As our nation continues to combat the threat of terrorism, it is crucial that we learn from the past in our mission to keep our nation safe,” he said in a news release. “Protecting the cockpits in our nation’s airplanes is critical in preventing commercial airliners from being turned into weapons of war.”
However, both Fitzpatrick and Ellen Saracini, Victor Saracini’s widow and a leading advocate for the cockpit barriers, say there’s more work to be done. Fitzpatrick’s proposal would extend the barrier requirement not just to new aircraft but also retroactively to all passenger planes with more than 75 seats.
“Our mission will now expand to ensure that ALL commercial airliners contain secondary barriers,” said Ellen Saracini, who attended the reauthorization bill vote, in Fitzpatrick’s release. “We will not stop fighting until this is achieved.”
The reauthorization bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.