Post 9/11 Flight Attendant/Pilot communication and security training requirements. Are they adequately addressed in the current climate of aviation?

are flight attendants/pilots adequately trained to handle security issues in a post 9/11 environment?


Post 9/11 Flight Attendant/Pilot communication and security training requirements. Are they adequately addressed in the current climate of aviation?

The events of September 11th, 2001, have magnified the importance of the flight attendants in protecting the safety of the passengers and crew, as well as, providing sometimes critical information to the pilots. The threat to aviation safety has changed, and so must our response.
The events of September 11 changed forever our concepts of appropriate aviation safety.
The use of a hijacked aircraft as a weapon requires a new strategy to ensure that the crew always retains control of the aircraft.
The attempts of those valiant flight attendants onboard United Airlines flight 93, to provide vital information to those on the ground, as well as their actions, serve as alarming reminders that the cabin crew is essential to the safety of the aircraft and passengers. Effective communication and synergy between the flight deck and cabin crew has never been more significant and challenging. If an emergency or terrorist attack should occur it is imperative that the crew work effectively. Communication and coordination between pilots and flight attendants should not be taken for granted. In Part 121 air carrier operations critical coordination and relationships may be hindered by the fact the crews have little time to brief prior to the flight. Lack of joint security training exercises, a reluctance to contact the flight deck, misunderstanding of the "sterile cockpit rule", (F.A.R. 121.542) all create a dangerous gap in communication and coordination, further impeded by the cockpit door strengthening requirement, mandated as a result of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Errors have been documented which illustrate the convergence of barriers in information transfer between the flight attendants and pilots and the anticipated stress related effects on communication. (Chute 1996) In light of 9/11 and post 9/11 events, we can not afford to have any barriers that would impede effective communication and coordination between the two groups. The tension of an emergency or attack would only complicate human interactions, which could prove to be devastating in a sudden onboard emergency. Previous research has explored the coordination of "two cultures" between the pilot's and flight attendants. In particular, the situation when the flight attendants have safety related information and have to decide whether to tell the pilots. The results have shown confusion and reluctance about when it is permissible and what information to take to the cockpit.
One of the most poignant examples occurred on March 10, 1989, when 21 people were killed on board Air Ontario's F-28 that crashed on takeoff from Dryden, Canada due to ice accumulation on the wings. As the aircraft waited for takeoff, a flight attendant, Sonia Hartwick, saw the snow accumulation on the wings of the aircraft. She did not call the cockpit to tell the pilots because she thought the pilots did not welcome operational information from the flight attendants. In the past she felt that she had appeared stupid when relating safety concerns to the pilots. Hartwick testified that she had the feeling that Air Ontario's management was not supportive of flight attendants voicing operational concerns. She placed an inordinate amount of faith in the pilots being aware of every situation and believed that their professionalism and training would suffice. (Moshansky 1992) One off duty pilot was also concerned about the snow; but was reluctant to inform the flight deck.
Research by Helmreich (1979) has shown that individuals under stress tend to be more obedient and supplicant to authority figures. Junior crew members can become so passive and differential that they fail to supply the vital information needed. Additionally, 9/11 security issues were brought to light in 2004, when unions and flight attendants demanded security training. (Holm 2004) May 2004, The Association of Flight Attendants demanded that the Transportation Security Administration require the nation's airlines to provide flight attendants with security training. More than 100 flight attendants rallied on Capitol Hill to reintroduced legislation that would require airlines to give attendants mandatory counterterrorism training. "It is unconscionable that the decision of who should be trained and to what extent they should be trained should be left to the airlines", said Alice Hoglan, a former United Airlines flight attendant. Her son, Mark Bingham, died during the Sept. 11th attacks as a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania. The presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and The Transport Workers Union Local 556 gave TSA about 10,000 letters written by flight attendants demanding that what they call inadequate security training programs by airlines be examined. "On September 11, 2001, 25 heroic flight attendants lost their lives trying to protect their passengers and the cockpit", said AFA president Patricia Friend. "Implementing comprehensive, mandatory security training is the only way to give flight attendants and our passengers a fighting chance in the event of another terrorist attack. We owe it to the memory of the flight attendants that we lost, and we owe it to the flight attendants who go to work every day."
On three separate occasions, Congress has specifically acknowledged the urgent need for Flight Attendant security training:
The Air Transportation Security Act (2001) - required the FAA to update and improve air carriers' existing flight attendant security training programs to reflect the new terrorist environment. Because it did not contain specifics on exactly what the training should include, each carrier instituted their own program, so the type of training and time spent on the training varies from carrier to carrier.
The Homeland Security Act (2002) - mandated comprehensive, industry-wide, flight attendant security training standards to be developed by security experts at the Transportation Security Administration.
The FAA Reauthorization Act (2003) - the original language in this legislation contained a basic, mandatory level of security training including provisions for crew communication and coordination, psychology of a terrorist, and basic moves to defend oneself; and a voluntary advanced level of training which would include more aggressive methods of self-defense and be more physical; and a requirement that TSA must develop regulations and guidelines for these trainings. At the last minute the language for the basic security training was changed from the TSA "shall" issue these guidelines to the TSA "may" issue these guidelines. By changing this one word, the ability to force TSA to issue industry-wide guidelines was removed, and some airlines have succeeded in keeping flight attendant security almost non-existent.


The Testimony of Ms. Patricia Friend, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, speaks vigorously about these serious gaps in security training and procedures in place for flight attendants.
"AFA is the representative of 45,000 flight attendants at 26 carriers. The job of a flight attendant is first to protect the flying public. It is a job that we love and one that we do with pride and care. We are trained to fight fires in the air, to administer first aid, to evacuate an aircraft in case of an accident, deal with abusive passengers and to give comfort. We receive comprehensive training in how to handle all these situations onboard the aircraft and are now officially recognized for these roles through FAA certification. Unbelievably, almost three years after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 we still have not been trained to appropriately handle a security crisis onboard on our airplanes. On September 11, 25 heroic flight attendants lost their lives trying to protect their passengers and the security of the flight deck. Their wrists were bound, their throats slashed, and they died with the knowledge they would no longer be there to help those whom they were entrusted to protect. We must not forget the heroic flight attendants we lost that tragic day. We all learned from the September 11th Commission report in January and heard first hand the phone call placed by flight attendant Betty Ong on American Airlines flight 11. Her calm demeanor and professionalism in the face of this attack was a true testament to her, and all flight attendants', ability to put their training to good use. As one television commentator stated after hearing the presentation of her taped phone conversation, "she carried out her job professionally and reacted well to her training. Unfortunately, she had received the wrong kind of training." I could not agree more and clearly the 9-11 Commission felt the same. Unfortunately, I am here to report to you that nothing has changed since that horrible day. We are no better prepared today to handle a situation like that which occurred on September 11th and our training is still woefully inadequate. Congress has taken many actions to improve the overall safety of the aviation system. Screeners have been federalized and are receiving updated training. Screening procedures have been tightened. Flight deck doors are now reinforced, many pilots carry guns, and armed federal air marshals are on select flights. There are new procedures in place for many aspects of aviation security. However there is still one crucial link missing. The needs of flight attendants in order to adequately perform their roles in making the aviation system more secure have been delayed, denied and ignored. Our skies are not safe and they will not be safe until flight attendants receive the training necessary to protect our passengers from another September 11."
The Washington Post reported in December of 2002 that air marshals still shoot the flight attendant mock-up in their training simulations and are still graduating from the program. Doesn't it make more sense to train that flight attendant to assist in a crisis rather than to be a human shield? Both FFDO's and air marshals have stated it would be their preference to have the flight attendant as a trained ally - one with the skills, the knowledge and the ability to foil a terrorist. Flight attendants are the front line safety personnel on the aircraft, as recognized by the 9-11 Commission; it was only logical and clear to the flight attendants of this country that our training needed to be updated in order for us to effectively fulfill our role to protect the safety and security of passengers.
In Summary we find that the existing flight attendant security training may need to be changed to reflect the current security and threats that flight attendants may face onboard the aircraft Training discrepancies in the aviation system led to many flight attendants unprepared for any future terrorist attack onboard an aircraft. A basic, mandatory level of security training that included a number of provisions such as crew communication and coordination, psychology of terrorist and basic moves to defend oneself. It has been said that flight attendants do not need extensive security training as the passengers will come to their aid. While that may seem to be the case, it may not always prove to be reality.
Recently, a flight attendant for a major airline was attacked by an abusive passenger. The passenger lunged at the flight attendant. He was attempting to grab her. Not one passenger came to her assistance. It was only because of the fact that she had taken basic self-defense classes in college, and remembered that training was she able to break free from the attacking passenger. Where does that leave flight attendants today in their ability to respond to another terrorist attack onboard aircraft?
Section 603 (6) of the Vision 100 - Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act as passed in 2003 provides that TSA shall monitor air carrier training programs. It states: "In determining when an air carrier's training program should be reviewed these regulations should guarantee that airline training programs incorporate topics such as, but not limited to, psychology of a terrorist, verbal command, items readily available onboard to assist in self-defense, physical means to defend oneself and more importantly crew communication and coordination. This last part is vitally important if all three parts of the onboard aviation security team; the pilots, air marshals, if present, and flight attendants all know how the other groups have been trained to react.
The only people who were successful in saving lives on September 11 were those flight attendants who actually abandoned their training. With the help of their passengers they prevented Flight 93 from being used as a missile. Despite their training to acquiesce, they fought back. Yes, they still lost their lives, but they lost them saving the lives of countless others. Let?s not allow the lesson they taught us be in vain.

References:
- ASRS Search Request #5280, Part 121/135 Emergency Evacuation Incidents, December 1, 1999.
- Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1995a). Cockpit/cabin communication: I. A tale of two cultures. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 5 (3), 257-276 Code of Federal Regulations (2007) F.A.R. 121.542. Washington, D.C. Federal Aviation Administration.
- Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1996). Cockpit/cabin communication: II. Shall we tell the pilots? The international Journal of Aviation Psychology, 6 (93), 211-231.
- Chute, R.D. & Wiener, E.L. (1995b). Cockpit. cabin communication: Recent research. In the Proceedings of the 48th International Air Safety Seminar, Seattle WA
- May 2004, The Association of Flight, November 7-9, 1995. Given at a Full Committee Hearing: Aviation Security ,Tuesday, June 22 2004 - 9:30 AM - SR ? 253, Rosenberg, Alyssa Union leaders call for airport security training, November 02,2007 Govexec.com By Chris Strohm May 12, 2004
- The Testimony of Ms. Patricia Friend, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA



By Lori J. Brown, © 2007, for Skycolors

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