RELEASE: Gottheimer Calls for Congress to Pass Bipartisan Cockpit Security Bill to Prevent Future Terrorist Attacks Like 9/11

Only 9/11 Commission recommendation not yet implemented | Joins airline pilots, first responders to honor those lost twenty years ago in 9/11 attacks | Outlines comprehensive steps to fight ISIS-inspired terror

 

Above: Congressman Josh Gottheimer with Glen Rock Chief of Police Dean Ackermann, and Captain Frank Pizzonia, the Air Line Pilots Association’s Aviation Safety Vice Chairman

GLEN ROCK, NJ — Today, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined airline pilots and local officials to call on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation — H.R. 911, the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Act of 2021 — to require the installation of secondary cockpit barriers on all commercial passenger aircraft to prevent terrorist attacks similar to 9/11.

The bill is named in honor of United Airlines Flight 175 Captain Victor Saracini, a former Navy pilot, who was killed after his plane was hijacked and deliberately flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The installation of secondary cockpit barriers on all commercial passenger flights is the only 9/11 Commission recommendation not yet implemented.

Thanks to Congressman Gottheimer’s bipartisan leadership, legislation was signed into law that requires secondary barriers on newly manufactured aircraft. This bill, the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Act of 2021, will require secondary barriers on all existing commercial passenger aircrafts, as well.

Gottheimer was joined today at the Glen Rock 9/11 Memorial by Captain Frank Pizzonia, the Aviation Safety Vice Chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA); airline pilot Captain Eric Liliebladh, Glen Rock Councilmember Robert Dill, and Glen Rock Chief of Police Dean Ackermann.

“On 9/11, terrorists counted on being able to rush and breach the cockpit, knowing that the cockpit doors would be opened early in the flight. The terrorists exploited that weakness,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer. “Those flight decks and our flight crews and pilots remain vulnerable today — that is unacceptable. This bipartisan bill, the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act, will require all existing passenger aircrafts to retrofit a secondary barrier, which will ensure all current aircraft fleets are held to the same standard as newly manufactured aircraft. Currently, only new planes are required to have a secondary barrier. There’s no reason we should have terror-safe planes and terror-unsafe planes in the air at the same time. This bill will address that, and it’s part of our work to take every action we can to completely eradicate terror, whether abroad or at home, whether from Al Qaeda or an ISIS-inspired cell or a lone-wolf terrorist.”

Captain Frank Pizzonia, the Air Line Pilots Association’s Aviation Safety Vice Chairman said, “The secondary barrier is a very simple, cost effective way to create a barrier – not a door – that is in front of the cockpit door — which then prevents any breach of the flight deck when the door is open. However, previous legislation mandating secondary barriers applied to only new aircrafts manufactured after the law was enacted. The plane I fly is a 767 which is roughly 20 years old. Airplanes are built to last – they are very safe so unless we pass this legislation, many of my colleagues and I could be flying the rest of our careers in planes without secondary barriers. We can’t allow that.” 

“It is unacceptable that twenty years after terrorists breached the cockpit of my husband’s airplane on September 11, 2011, our skies are still susceptible to repeat this act of terrorism. It’s my mission to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the flight deck aboard our nation’s airliners because, without secondary barriers, we are just as vulnerable today, as we were on that fateful day,” said Ellen Saracini, wife of United Airlines Flight 175 Captain Victor Saracini. “We need Congress to act swiftly to finally get secondary barriers on all commercial passenger aircraft. Thank you to Congressman Gottheimer, Congressman Fitzpatrick, and the bipartisan group pushing to address this critical issue, because there is no time to waste to protect all who travel in the skies above us.”

Gottheimer is also leading several key efforts to combat foreign and domestic terrorism and to support 9/11 survivors and first responders, including:

  • Introducing the bipartisan U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act, which will boost cooperation between the U.S. and Israel by developing technology to counter 'killer drones' amid the ongoing terrorist drone war in the Middle East.
  • Introducing the bipartisan Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits (FASTER) Act, to give law enforcement the capability to freeze the assets of all domestic terrorists, and those who provide material support to terrorists, when a suspect is arrested by federal law enforcement; and to implement a one-of-a-kind National Homegrown Terrorism Incident Clearinghouse for all levels of law enforcement to collect and share information on incidents of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorism and violent extremism — to help investigate and thwart future attacks.
  • Introducing the bipartisan Darren Drake Act, to require DHS and TSA to provide rental companies and car dealers with the information they need to flag and stop potential terror threats.  
  • Passing the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes Act to support 9/11 first responders and survivors, of which Gottheimer was an original cosponsor and which the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by Gottheimer, endorsed. The law provides long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors’ and first responders’ injuries, lost earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Cosponsoring bipartisan 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act — to address the impending funding shortfall facing the World Trade Center Health Program and ensure it is fully funded now and in the future. This program provides medical treatment and monitoring for over 100,000 responders and survivors from the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville crash site.

Below: Gottheimer speaks with Captain Frank Pizzonia, the Aviation Safety Vice Chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA); Air line Pilot Captain Eric Liliebladh

 

Watch the press conference here

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below

To all the first responders who are here today, please know how deeply grateful I am, and we are, for your service and sacrifice. Your work to keep our communities safe helps make our region and nation great.

Like many of you here, I remember that morning so well. It was a beautiful day like this one. Sun shining. Air crisp. And then the horror. Moms and dads taken away from their families. Fire fighters, law enforcement, brave souls who ran up when others ran out. And then the smoke, simmering up from the pile. Photos taped to the fences. Today, I think about all the children who grew up without parents. They’re in their twenties now. It’s hard to fathom. 

To all those we lost twenty years ago tomorrow — and in our fight against terror since then — we remember them and honor their sacrifice, their service, and their bravery. 3,000 people who were killed on 9/11 — including 750 from New Jersey, 147 of those from here in Bergen County, including 11 Glen Rock community members. We’re here to always pay respects and to honor their memory and lives by doing everything in our power to ensure that it never happens again. That we take every action to completely eradicate terror, whether abroad or at home — an Al Qaeda or ISIS-inspired cell or a lone-wolf terrorist. That we stand up to extremists who seek to undermine our democracy and way of life, and always stand by our active duty, our veterans, and our first responders.  

We must always have their backs.

I’m also here this afternoon to remember another hero — Captain Victor Saracini, a former Navy pilot, who flew United Flight 175 from Boston Logan International Airport on that tragic day. The historical record reflects that two pilots, seven flight attendants, and fifty-six passengers aboard United Flight 175 acted bravely in the face of unspeakable terror.

On the morning of 9/11, not long after the plane had reached cruising altitude, armed terrorists seated close to the cockpit door attacked the flight crew, barbarically killing Captain Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks, hijacking the plane and rerouting it to New York City. 

Captain Saracini and his wife Ellen had two children together: Brielle, who was 10 at the time of the attacks, and Kirsten, who was 13 — both now grown and married.  

The piece of the Twin Towers here in Glen Rock is a constant reminder of the sheer wreckage and terror that day. It will forever memorialize the depth of loss in our communities, not only here in Glen Rock but in town after town, where yellow ribbons and memorials dotted the landscape for months and years. North Jersey will forever remember those hours spent in horror, wondering if loved ones would make it home alive from New York City that day. I was at Ground Zero just yesterday, and in the museum, and although two decades later, in many ways it feels like just yesterday. 

What’s still unbelievable is how many souls were stolen that morning, how many families destroyed, how many more servicemen and women have since fought for and died at home and abroad in the global fight against terror. With ISIS abroad, Al-Shabab, Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ, and others — these are people whose hatred is so great that they are willing to sacrifice everything to threaten our way of life. 

And, now, as we’ve seen in recent years, these threats are continuing to evolve.

We now have a near-constant spread of violent extremism, disinformation, foreign interference, and hate online that’s undermining our democracy. As I’ve learned from my work on the House Homeland Security Committee, and as Vice Chair of the Financial Services National Security Subcommittee, these forces continue to use the platforms provided by U.S.-based social media companies to spread hate and terrorist propaganda, and to recruit. Now, they’re growing even more sophisticated, using digital assets like cryptocurrencies to finance their next attacks. 

The means of financing and advancing global terrorist activity has become easier, not harder. 

As the threat of terrorism continues to evolve, we can’t afford to let our guard down for one second. We cannot – we must not – allow another attack on our homeland.

Yet, as much as we’ve done, twenty years after these tragic attacks, there remains only one lone 9/11 Commission recommendation not yet implemented. 

Just one left.

Chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and Vice-Chaired by Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Report made several key recommendations, including steps to address the permeable aviation security that existed prior to 9/11. With many of them implemented, this one glaring vulnerability remains — one that has yet to be fully acted upon: the ongoing failure to install secondary flight deck barriers on all commercial flights. 

That’s the one we are here, specifically, to address today, and that my colleagues across the aisle and I, working with Captain Saracini’s incredible wife Ellen, the pilots, the flight attendants, and first responders have been working to pass in Congress.

On 9/11, terrorists counted on being able to rush and breach the cockpit, knowing that the cockpit doors would be opened early in the flight — usually when a pilot got a cup of coffee or used the restroom. The terrorists exploited that weakness. 

Those flight decks remain vulnerable today, when that cockpit has to open for crew members to access the lavatory or to switch crew positions, so the crew can get rest on longer flights. Rolling out a drink cart when the door opens is not an adequate solution to the serious threat of a potential hijacking.

Without a secondary barrier on all commercial flights, some sort of fence that can be pulled across, our brave flight attendants and pilots, armed with just a drink cart, are expected to stand in the way of a potential attacker. 

Unfortunately, as our pilots know, we’re here — twenty years after 9/11 — and all of our commercial passenger flights still do not have barriers against a terrorist charging up the aisle of a plane, entering the cockpit, slamming the fortified door, and taking down a plane with our loved ones. The doors are now reinforced to handle gunfire, but that also means that once someone is in there and locks the door, there’s no getting in. 

A study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined that during transition, the flight deck door has real vulnerability. The FAA study found that a secondary barrier is the safest, most cost-effective, and most efficient way to protect the cockpit. These wire mesh barriers are inexpensive — at just $5,000-$12,000 per aircraft. That could be less than the cost of a first class, round-trip ticket to London. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of a $300+ million Boeing 747.

We’re standing together today, because we must do everything we can to protect American pilots, flight attendants, passengers, and the public from another tragedy – from another terrorist charging the cockpit. 

Thankfully, some progress has been made — but our work isn’t done yet. Provisions from our original bill were signed into law in 2018 — requiring all newly manufactured aircraft to install a secondary barrier. That is a great victory. It’s a huge win that Congress has previously made some progress on this, and I was proud to help lead that bill with my good friend, and fellow Co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Brian Fitzpatrick. 

Unfortunately, the real issue is that requirement leaves out all aircraft already in use and in our skies before 2018.

We need to build on the momentum Congress has already made, and include the same secondary barrier requirement for all existing commercial passenger aircraft.  That’s what we are here to talk about today. 

Our new bill, which was introduced earlier this Congress — House bill number 9-11 — the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act will require all existing passenger aircraft to retrofit a secondary barrier, which will ensure all current aircraft fleets are held to the same standard as newly manufactured aircraft. There’s no reason we should have terror-safe planes and terror-unsafe planes in the air at the same time. This bill will address that. 

Retrofitting all our current planes will prevent would-be hijackers from charging the cockpits on our flights like they did on 9/11. Like they did to Captain Saracini.

With this bipartisan bill, these barriers will be in use on ALL aircraft when the plane is in flight and the cockpit door is open. Installing secondary barriers on new planes and retrofitting old ones is not expensive and could be done easily, but it is critical if we want to prioritize airline safety and our national security. In 2001, Congress mandated that cockpit doors be reinforced to fend off intruders. These doors are impenetrable to small-arms fire and must remain locked when they are closed. Here’s the problem – and it’s a serious one: No matter how strong these doors are, they still need to be opened occasionally mid-flight, such as when pilots need to use the restroom.

Research has shown that when the doors are open, trained hijackers can breach the cockpit in as few as 3 to 5 seconds.

That’s all it takes — and a hijacker sitting on the plane waiting for that very moment that a flight attendant opens the door, the pilot’s life and the lives of all the passengers could be in grave danger.

This commonsense piece of legislation, right now, has cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. There is nothing partisan about fighting terror. Nothing Democrat or Republican. It’s just what’s good for America, and it’s why I’m so proud to help lead this bill.

Captain Saracini’s wife Ellen, who has become an advocate for this cause, couldn’t make it to North Jersey today, but as she told me: “It is unacceptable that nearly 20 years after terrorists breached the cockpit of my husband’s airplane on September 11, 2001, our skies are still susceptible to repeat this act of terrorism.”

That’s why, today, we’re all calling on Congress to get this done.

Of course, our fight against global ISIS-inspired and lone-wolf terror doesn’t end here though. We still have a lot of other unfinished business to protect us.

Just yesterday, while I was at the Freedom Tower, I joined a House Homeland Security Committee roundtable, and discussed my bipartisan legislation with security experts: the Darren Drake Act, which has been successfully passed out of Committee. Next stop is the House Floor.  It’s named in memory of a New Milford resident and victim of the October 2017 New York City West Side Highway terrorist truck attack. This bill will help ensure rental companies and dealers report suspicious behavior to law enforcement to stop ISIS-inspired truck and vehicular terrorist attacks. I’ve been honored to work with Darren’s parents, Jimmy and Barbara, to join in the fight for change in Darren's name and honor. Darren would have been 36 years old this year. It’s hard to believe. 

I’ve also led a bipartisan bill — the FASTER Act, the Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits Act — to give law enforcement the capability to freeze the assets of all domestic terrorists, and those who provide material support to terrorists, when a suspect is arrested by federal law enforcement. It will implement a one-of-a-kind National Homegrown Terrorism Incident Clearinghouse for all levels of law enforcement to collect and share information on incidents of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorism and violent extremism — to help investigate and thwart future attacks. 

Another bipartisan bill I’ve introduced — the U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act — will boost cooperation between the U.S. and our historic ally Israel in developing technology to counter 'killer drones' amid the ongoing terrorist drone war in the Middle East. 

On top of these protections, we also will never forget the brave men and women, the first responders, firefighters, EMTs, and police, who ran into the danger — not out — when those planes hit the towers. 

Hundreds of Jersey and New York first responders and others answered the call and rushed toward the pile. Our nation lost more than 400 first responders that day.

On top of that, more than 2,000 first responders and others who were in and around the World Trade Center have died since, as a result of 9/11 exposure. 

I was proud to have helped fight for and pass the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act — to make sure we fully find the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. This provides long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors’ and first responders’ injuries, lost earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

But, now, there’s more to do. My colleagues and I in the House recently introduced the bipartisan  9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act — to address the impending funding shortfall facing the World Trade Center Health Program and ensure it is fully funded now and in the future. This program provides medical treatment and monitoring for more than 100,000 responders and survivors from the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville crash site. These folks live in every single state, and in 434 out of 435 Congressional Districts. We’ve got to get that passed. There’s no excuse.

We must ALWAYS get the backs of those who’ve so bravely had ours.

That’s why I will always do everything I can to make sure our firefighters, law enforcement officers, and all first responders, get the resources they need to protect themselves and our families.  Again, I want to thank all of our first responders and veterans here today. 

And I will continue to do whatever I can to stop terror in its tracks, and to protect our nation’s pilots, flight attendants, passengers, and the public.

We live in the greatest country in the world, and it’s in no small part thanks to the work that everyone here does every day — and to the work of all those fighting terror and keeping our families safe here, throughout New Jersey, and throughout our country.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless and watch over our great country.

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