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Monday, January 15, 2007

FAA Issues NPRM On Aircraft Designs To Defy Terrorists

In a sweeping new set of regulations which include aircraft with 60 + passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at making airliners less susceptible to terrorist attacks. The proposal includes stronger cockpit bulkheads and better fire suppression systems.

The effort dates back to 1999, when the FAA tasked the Transport Aircraft Engine Issues area of the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) to propose harmonized regulations incorporating security measures into airplane design. The move was prompted by airline reports of cockpit intrusions by aggressive passengers. The task was assigned to the Design for Security Harmonization Working Group (DSHWG), with members from the aviation industry and the governments of Europe, the U.S., Brazil, and Canada. The proposal stems from those recommendations as well as measures passed by Congress after 9/11 called the Aviation and Transportation Security Act .

While the proposal exempts smaller aircraft, the FAA acknowledged that it contravened the practice of requiring a single level of safety for regional aircraft and operations. However, it said, given the importance of maintaining cabin security, this proposal would require protection of the flight crew compartment for all transport category airplanes required to have a flight deck door.

"Our review of security-related events over the last 30 years indicates that smaller airplanes (whether carrying passengers or cargo) are less likely to be the target of terrorists," it said, seeking comments on whether or not to include smaller equipment. "Operators of smaller airplanes have fewer people to screen and/or less cargo to inspect; thus, the probability of detecting an explosive device is greater should a terrorist attempt to carry or place one onboard. The FAA reviewed passenger capacity and airplane gross weight as distinguishing parameters in assessing applicability of these proposals. We concluded both parameters need to be addressed when defining a satisfactory and practical standard. Specifically, we propose that the rule applies to airplanes with a certificated passenger seating capacity of more than 60 persons or a maximum certificated gross takeoff of over 100,000 pounds. This approach addresses airplanes of significant size that carry both passengers and cargo because the passenger capacity alone may not trigger the proposed requirements."

It is estimated that in the aftermath of 9/11 carriers spent $505 million to better secure cockpit doors, making them able to withstand bullets, explosives and force. The new rule extends this protection to the floors, walls and ceiling around the cockpit. FAA also wants to make it harder for terrorists to find a place to stash weapons as well as having a designated center - least risk bomb location (LRBL) -- to put a bomb to minimize damage in the event of an explosion.

The NPRM applies only to aircraft designed after the rule takes effect. The proposal would cost $453.9 million through 2049 and save $1.2 billion including $763 million from spoiling one terrorist plot. The estimate includes the cost of extra fuel associated with increased weight. The proposal would require the manufacturer to separate redundant flight critical systems to maximize the ability to continue safe flight and landing if there is an event that damages one of those systems. It also wants aircraft to have the ability to remove smoke, fumes and noxious gases from the cockpit and cabins in the event an explosive or incendiary device is triggered. The goal is to prevent smoke, fumes, and noxious gases from reaching incapacitating levels, it said. Similarly, it wants a fire suppression system in cargo bays to be designed to not only suppress a fire/explosion but to withstand such an event as well. It would also require the area above overhead bins to be designed to prevent hiding objects. Comments are open through April 5 [Docket No. FAA- 2006-26722; Notice No. 06-19] RIN 2120-AI66 Security Related Considerations in the Design and Operation of Transport Category Airplanes.

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