Gottheimer, Fitzpatrick Call For Passage of HR 911 to Secure Airplane Cockpits from Terrorists

Aug 03, 2018

Above: Congressmen Fitzpatrick and Gottheimer, Ellen Saracini, and Ken Diaz of AFA United call on Congress to mandate secondary flight deck barriers on commercial airplanes

Today, Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8), a Democrat and a Republican, called on Congress to pass HR 911, the Saracini Aviation Safety Act of 2017, which would mandate the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on commercial airplanes. The bill is named after the late Captain Victor Saracini, who flew United Flight 175 on 9/11 and whose widow Ellen Saracini joined the Congressmen in Midland Park. The Allied Pilots Association, the Airline Pilots Association, and the United Association of Flight Attendants all spoke in support of the bill.

Video of the event can be found HERE.

“On 9/11, terrorists counted on being able to rush and breach the cockpit knowing that the doors would be opened early in the flight. And they did. And today, the flight deck remains vulnerable when that cockpit has to open,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Congressman Fitzpatrick and I re-introduced a bipartisan bill, H.R. 911, the Saracini Aviation Safety Act, to make sure that a tragedy like 9/11 never occurs again.”

“As our nation continues to combat the threat of terrorism, it’s crucial that we not only prepare for the future, but learn from the past. Protecting the cockpit of our nation’s planes is the simplest, cheapest and most effective method to prevent airplanes from being turned into weapons of war by those who seek to do us harm. Congressman Gottheimer and I will continue to fight until the Saracini Aviation Safety Act is signed into law and all passenger aircraft contain secondary barriers,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8).

“We all know where we were on September Eleventh,” said Ellen Saracini, widow of United Flight 175 Captain Victor Saracini. “We have put on a fortified cockpit door. That door works great, but only when it’s closed. The problem is, during flight, it opens multiple times and it’s during those times that the same vulnerability exists right now as it did on September Eleventh. We have an easy, low cost solution to make sure what we’re doing on our aircraft and for Americans is to make sure that I don’t have to look another family member in the eye of terror and say ‘I’m sorry, I knew there was an issue and we should have done something about it.’ We have representation right here, Brian Fitzpatrick and Josh Gottheimer, who both have been working tirelessly to make sure that Americans are safe when they travel on an airplane.”

“On behalf of our 1700 members, we stand with Congressmen Gottheimer and Fitzpatrick, as we did back when this bill was first introduced. Most importantly, we stand with Ms. Ellen Saracini. Her husband, Captain Saracini, for whom this legislation is named. It seems a very common sense piece of legislation considering the safety benefit,” said Frank Conti, First Vice President of the Port Authority.

“AFA is fully committed and has fully supported multi-layered approaches to increased airline safety on board our aircraft. Measures like the secondary barrier are so important for the protection of our crews, and our passengers that we travel with every day,” said Ken Diaz, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants United, representing 24,000 flight attendants at United Airlines.

“We’ve been working tirelessly with our Congressmen and with Ellen to get this legislation through for years now,” Dan Ward of the Airline Pilots Association. “We have an opportunity here to get this legislation through before tragedy strikes. And it’s very refreshing to see this bipartisan legislation moving forward to protect Americans, particularly as we are looking at rolling back our TSA standards at several airports across the country.”

“Today we stand before our 911 Memorial. I am grateful to join together with our Congressman Josh Gottheimer and his colleague Representative Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania as they present aviation safety legislation that will protect all of us,” said Midland Park Mayor Harry Shortway Jr.

The Saracini Aviation Safety Act [H.R. 911] mandates inexpensive, light weight wire-mesh gates to be installed between the passenger cabin and the cockpit door that would block access to the flight deck whenever the cockpit door is opened during flight for pilots’ meals, restroom use, and other reasons. It is named in honor of pilot Captain Victor J. Saracini, who was killed when terrorists hijacked United Flight 175 on September 11, 2001. Saracini’s widow, Ellen, has been a leading advocate on the issue since her husband’s death.

Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

We’re here this morning to honor the memory of the nearly three thousand people who were killed on 9/11 – including 703 from New Jersey — and to honor their legacy by making sure that a tragedy like it never occurs again.

To all those lost on 9/11 and in the War on Terror, we remember you and honor your sacrifice, your service and your bravery. We will always remember you and the American spirit shown by countless New Jersey residents that day.

We also honor the memories of the brave 117 Bergen County First Responders who have lost their lives in the line of duty here at home. First responders run into harm’s way when everyone else runs out to safety. We must always have the backs of our first responders

Today, we remember Joseph Roberto, a Midland Park resident and bank analyst who perished in the World Trade Center. Joseph left behind his son Joseph and his pregnant wife, Janet.

And we remember Ellen’s late husband, 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 that tragic day.

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, killing Captain Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks [hor-rawks], hijacking the plane and rerouting it to New York City. Ellen, all of our hearts break for you and your family.

These memorials are a solemn reminder of the grave day-in-and-day-out risks law enforcement, first responders, face serving our communities and families.

These steel beams behind me were taken from the wreckage to forever memorialize the depth of loss in our communities. This community will forever remember those hours spent in horror, wondering if loved ones would make it home alive from New York City that day.

Many of our bravest went into the city to help clean up the aftermath.

And other brave community members are still valiantly fighting the war on terror throughout the Middle East in order to keep our families safe from ISIS, Al Qaeda, and others who seek to harm the United States. We thank them and pray for their safe return.

While we have made enormous progress, including against Al Qaeda and ISIS, new terrorist threats are always emerging. At home, homegrown violent extremists were responsible for the tragic shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, and the truck attack in Lower Manhattan in October last year. . I recently introduced legislation to help law enforcement to freeze the assets of ISIS-inspired homegrown terrorists and a bill, The Darren Drake Act, to make it harder for terrorists to rent vehicles that they will use as deadly weapons of war.

Overseas, Iranian-backed Hezbollah is on the march in the Middle East. Al Shabab in North Africa. Syria remains a hotbed of terror. And extremists have spread to Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and beyond. And, as I’ve learned on the Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee, through technology, the means of financing global terrorist activity has become easier, not harder. In short, as the threat of terrorism continues to evolve, we can’t afford to let our guard down for one minute. We cannot – and we must not – allow another 9/11.

Yet, recently it was reported that TSA is considering eliminating passenger security screening at certain small and medium-sized airports, a “cost-saving” decision that is a penny wise and a pound foolish. Don’t forget, the 9/11 terrorists took flight lessons at small airports like Venice Municipal Airport in Florida, and they flew from the airport in Portland, Maine to Boston on the morning of the attacks. We simply cannot afford any shortcuts in the fight against terror. The minute we become complacent, the minute we will lose.

We clearly have yet to learn all the lessons from 9/11. Chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and Vice-Chaired by Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Report had several key recommendations, including steps to address the permeable aviation security that existed prior to 9/11. Many of them have been implemented – but there remains one glaring vulnerability, on ethat has yet to be fully acted upon – the ongoing failure to install secondary flight deck barriers. That’s the one we are here, specifically, to address this morning, and that Brian Fitzpatrick and I, working with 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 doors would be opened early in the flight. And they did. And today, the flight deck remains vulnerable 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, simply because the FAA and some airlines expect our brave flight attendants and pilots, armed with drink carts, to stand in the way of a potential attacker. Rolling out a drink cart when the door opens is not an adequate solution to the serious threat of a potential hijacking.

Here we stand, 17 years after 9/11, and there are no barriers to a terrorists charging up the aisle of a plane, entering the cockpit, slamming the fortified door, and taking down a plane with our loved ones.

Just last year, someone did charge up the aisle toward the cockpit and was stopped. Thankfully he wasn’t a ISIS soldier.

Just last year, The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General issued a report that found that FAA has still not effectively mitigated these vulnerabilities. The FAA failed to issue guidance as to how aircarriers could block access to the cockpit door until April 2015, nearly 14 years after 9/11

We stand here today, because we must do everything we can to protect American pilots, flight attendants, passengers, and the public from another tragedy.

In February of last year, Congressman Fitzpatrick and I re-introduced a bipartisan bill, H.R. 911, the Saracini Aviation Safety Act, that would mandate the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on commercial airplanes to prevent would-be hijackers from charging the cockpits on our flights like they did on 9/11. Like they did to Captain Saracini.

The bill will require the installation of these barriers and their 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.

These barriers are inexpensive, look at them. These wire mesh barriers cost about $5,000 per barrier — 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 $360 million Boeing 747.

This commonsense piece of legislation has been introduced in multiple Congresses. Today, it has 86 bipartisan cosponsors — 61 Democrats and 25 Republicans, but it still has not received a vote. 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 stand with my very good friend Brian Fitzpatrick here today.

As members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Congressman Fitzpatrick and I are also working on a new “Break the Gridlock” set of reforms to the House rules to make sure that commonsense, bipartisan bills like this one receive a vote on the floor. I believe that every Member of Congress should have to explain to their constituents and to the family members of our brave pilots and flight attendants why they object to this commonsense becoming law.

And yet, we’ve made important progress. Thanks to Rep. Fitzpatrick’s leadership, we managed to get language included in the FAA Reauthorization Act that passed the House in April, to require secondary flight deck barriers to be installed on all new aircraft. While this legislation does not go far enough to protect all pilots, flight attendants, and passengers, and while it still awaits a vote in the Senate, this bill marks a step in the right direction, and it shows the growing support for the Saracini Aviation Safety Act.

As I have since I was sworn in, and as a member of the Firefighter Caucus, led by my good friend, Congressman Bill Pascrell, I will always stand by those first responders who stand by us — who not only protect our communities from local dangers, but are on the front lines in our fight against terror.

I will always do everything I can to make sure our law enforcement officers, and all first responders, get the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

And I will continue to do whatever I can to stop terror in its tracks.

To close, I’d like to reiterate to all the first responders who are here today just 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.

I will always have your backs the way you have the backs of the towns you serve. We live in the greatest country in the world, bar none, and it’s in no small part thank to the work that you do every day.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.

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