Lock and Load? Explaining Different Policies for Delivering Safety and Security in the Air

August 2002 (VOL. 20, NO. 2)

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The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon generated significant social, economic, and political perturbations. The airline industry has been affected directly, with passenger numbers down and some airlines such as Midway in the United States and Sabena in Europe ceasing to exist. In an effort to restore confidence, the airlines, regulatory agencies, and governments on both sides of the Atlantic introduced “emergency” measures to increase public confidence in security. While cockpit incursion poses a risk to air safety (although it is not a novel phenomenon) other factors may also compromise safety (such as crew fatigue, flawed design, careless maintenance, and poor intra-crew communication and coordination. Both the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.) have done much work on improving this latter safety-related aspect of commercial air operations. Out of this work has emerged the discipline of cockpit or crew resource management (CRM). (Different nomenclatures may be used.) One of the preconditions for effective CRM is ease of access between the flight deck and cabin. In the U.K., the British Air Line Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has voiced concern over the impact that locked and barred cockpit doors and new communication protocols will have on CRM. This has not been a major public concern of America’s Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA). This paper uses Kasperson’s theory of risk amplification and Sprent’s observations on risk attenuation to understand (a) how two organizations working in the same industry and representing the same grade of worker could generate different risk perceptions and (b) how the major pilots’ union of the country that did much of the early work on CRM (the United States) could de-emphasize it in post-September 11 debates on crew and passenger safety.