Dutch armour tightens cockpit safety
Cockpit security is at the cutting edge to prevent repeats of the 11 September terrorist attacks and Dutch technology is leading the way.
And technology from Dutch company DSM is being used in the first armoured cockpit doors to be approved by aviation authorities.
The material is 15 times stronger than steel and has been chemically developed based on the molecules of light-grey, plastic sandwich bags.
"The molecules are elongated and appear a bit like spaghetti," the engineers said.
De Telegraaf newspaper said aviation specialists gathered late last month at a DSM shooting range and gaped in amazement as .44 magnum or .9 bullets came to a dead end in a panel of a cockpit door just several millimetres thick.
The result was obvious — the new cockpit door is secure.
Henk De Vries, chief of Dutch air traffic controllers' association VNV, agreed saying that the tests were "convincing".
The Telegraaf said the doors were safe against knives, bullets and even explosives.
Planes which fly in US airspace will probably be fitted with the new doors in 2003, but the European Union is still arguing over new regulations, their application and other measures.
The cockpit door using DSM technology was the first to be officially certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Boeing and other airplane manufacturers will use the new doors in their planes, but Airbus has not made a decision.
The armour — which uses Dyneema fibres from DSM — has been used in various protective applications for many years, but the fibre’s use in the civil aircraft industry is new.
According to DSM, the cockpit door was designed by C&D Aerospace in California, the largest builder of aircraft interiors, and the first door panels will be used aboard Boeing 737 and 757 planes and aircraft manufactured by Bombardier and Embraer, plus various types of McDonnell Douglas aircraft.
Meanwhile, the marketing and sales director of DSM High Performance Fibres, Frank Jouke Schaap, said he is especially proud of three DSM researchers who developed the polyethylene fibres: namely Koos Mencke, Renee Steeman and Jan Beugels.
A very thin and light Dyneema panel as part of the door design
Schaap said the development is not only a business matter, but places the Netherlands in a leading position.
Comparing the product against those from competitors such as Dupont, he said the DSM technology is the latest development in the field of armoured products, referring to bullet-proof vests, helmets and other such products.
VNV chair De Vries is enthusiastic about the design for stronger cockpit doors, but warns that safety measures should be improved both in the air and on the ground.
"Better education, better inspections and also extra care in the background checks of aviation personnel," De Vries said.
But the VNV chief is opposed to proposals that pilots be armed with a gun, saying they do not have sufficient training and that such a task is not their responsibility.
This is in contrast to a US Senate vote on Thursday giving approval to arming pilots on a voluntary basis.
NBC reported that the House of Representative has also passed separate legislation to arm the nation’s commercial pilots, also on a voluntary basis, but the Senate’s plan is slightly different — for example, it will also provide self-defence training for flight attendants.