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FAA weighs cameras, wireless devices in planes

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to propose installing cameras in the cabins of commercial aircraft and wireless devices for flight attendants to use to alert the cockpit crew to an emergency.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The latest post-Sept. 11 security change for commercial planes may be cameras in the cabin and wireless devices for flight attendants to alert the cockpit crew to an emergency.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to propose those ideas Wednesday and then take public comment before deciding whether to mandate the changes, The Associated Press has learned.

The plan is to give pilots a better idea of what’s happening in the cabin. The Sept. 11 hijackers gained access to the flight desk after attacking flight attendants in the cabin.

“The purpose of monitoring is to identify anyone requesting entry to the flight deck and to detect suspicious behavior or potential threats,” the FAA said in a notice to be published on Wednesday.

Airlines would have the option of using other ways to meet the requirement. Peepholes could be installed in the cockpit door, for example. Flight attendants could key the existing crew alert systems in a specific way to alert pilots of a security breach or unusual behavior.

The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, supports the idea of using cameras to monitor passengers. “Pilots have no way of knowing what’s going on behind the door,” said Capt. Denis Breslin, spokesman for the organization.

Pilots are less sure about the use of wireless devices. Among other things, they’re concerned that the devices might allow people to send false alarms to pilots, Breslin said.

Association of Flight Attendants spokeswoman Corey Caldwell said her organization favors cameras and wireless devices. She doesn’t believe false alarms pose much of a problem.

The government has made numerous changes to boost security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including hiring a federal work force to screen passengers, adding many more undercover federal air marshals, forbidding items such as box-cutters from the cabin, and requiring airlines to install bulletproof doors on the cockpit.

$185 million price tag
David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said cameras add another layer of security. Asked whether some might oppose cameras on privacy grounds, he said, “Any concerns about privacy are groundless because the cabin crew can see passengers all the time already.”

The FAA would allow two years to install the cameras or come up with an alternative. The agency estimates the total cost of installing video systems would be $185.5 million over 10 years.

Federal safety officials have recommended installing cameras in the cockpit as a way for accident investigators to review pilots’ performance after a crash. Pilots have strongly objected to that use for cameras because of privacy concerns.