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U.S. airline policies keep 2 in cockpit

The March 7, 2014 photo shows an Airbus A320 of German airline Germanwings as it lands at the airport in Hamburg, northern Germany. A Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf Tuesday, March 24, 2015.
The March 7, 2014 photo shows an Airbus A320 of German airline Germanwings as it lands at the airport in Hamburg, northern Germany. A Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf Tuesday, March 24, 2015. AP

Aviation experts, pilots and flight attendants said Thursday that the apparent scenario that unfolded in the cockpit of a Germanwings jet over France — where authorities said a co-pilot locked the captain out and steered the jet into a mountain — would be prevented by policies used by U.S. carriers.

“Every airline in the United States has procedures designed to ensure that there is never a situation where a pilot is left alone in the cockpit,” the Air Line Pilots Association, International said in a statement.

Kelly Skyles, national safety and security department chair for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, said two crew members must be present in the flight deck at all times.

If one of the officers needs to step out, she said, and there’s not a third pilot or other person approved to be in the cockpit, a flight attendant would step in.

“Obviously we’re not in charge of flying the aircraft,” said Skyles, who has been a flight attendant for 28 years. “We’re just required to be there as part of the security measure to ensure that there would be someone there to help protect the integrity of the flight deck.”

Had a flight attendant been in the German carrier’s cockpit, Skyles said, that person would have been able to let the pilot in or fight off the attempts of the co-pilot to crash the aircraft.

“Just that alone gives me great comfort knowing that we can never find ourselves in this exact scenario,” she said. “It’s so highly unlikely.”

Skyles said that measure was put in place to help ensure the cockpit is protected at all times — not to protect the plane from a pilot.

“We board our aircraft with the complete faith and trust that the individuals in charge of flying our aircraft are there with good intentions,” she said.

Skyles, whose union job is in Texas but who still flies from a Miami base, said she had been fielding queries Thursday from journalists as well as flight attendants who were concerned over details about cockpit security that had been released as cable networks dissected the news.

“We consider that security-sensitive information,” she said.

But Skyles said there are additional — and undisclosed — security measures still in place that are meant to ensure safety in the air, despite some of the information that has come out.

“That being out there does not mean that now we have a higher risk of flight deck security breaches that could occur,” she said.

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