St. Petersburg Times Online: World&Nation
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather

printer version

Pilots trained not to fight hijackers

The manual for airline pilots, experts say, reflects the 1970s when hijackers had transportation, not terrorism, in mind.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The American Airlines pilots involved in Tuesday's terrorist attacks were trained not to fight with hijackers.

"Attempt to establish a rapport with the hijackers," the American flight manual tells pilots. "Do not negotiate with the hijackers -- allow trained negotiators to do this. Never attempt to overpower a hijacker."

Another section warns pilots to "be alert for passengers wanting to become heroes and discourage unwanted intervention" by them.

The American manual, which is similar to materials used by other domestic airlines, is based largely on the spate of hijackings of the 1970s, when people took control of planes and demanded to be taken to Cuba or some other location. Back then, hijackers used the plane as transportation rather than as a weapon of terrorism.

The manual even has advice for pilots if they are forced to land in Cuba. It says Cuban authorities often require cash for fuel and landing fees and that pilots can get the cash from the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy.

Pilots and members of Congress said Wednesday that the American Airlines manual reflects an old-style approach to hijacking.

"It's sort of indicative of the whole security program," said Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park. "The training is out of date."

Bill Sorbie, a retired US Airways pilot who lives in St. Petersburg, said he was trained to keep hijackers calm and "try to cooperate with them."

Sorbie said pilot training has not kept up with the increase in terrorism.

"To use a plane in a suicide attempt is a brand new concept," Sorbie said. "Certainly, the manuals will have to be rewritten to deal with that."

But others said updated manuals or training improvements would not have prevented Tuesday's hijackings.

"I don't think in this case that having had different training manuals would have made any difference," said John Hansman, director of the international center for air transport at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "By the time these guys were on the airplane and had attacked the flight attendants, it might have already been too late."

Mack Moore, a Boeing 747 pilot for a major airline, said cockpit crews would use common sense if they were attacked. "You are trained to be logical and reasonable in your thinking," he said. "If (terrorists) are trying to wrest the controls away from you, you're going to do something about it."

Officials from American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment on the manual. In the United States, pilots of scheduled flights are required to keep the cockpit door closed and locked. On U.S. charter flights and airlines based in other countries, the standards are less strict, and passengers are sometimes allowed to visit the cockpit.

Airline pilots and security experts said the door could be broken down relatively easily by one or two hijackers with a running start down the aisle. If the hijackers broke into the cockpit, they would have had the advantage. The pilots probably would be strapped into their seats and have difficulty turning around.

Hansman said the pilots are "sitting in seats where they are not well-positioned to repulse a terrorist."

Moore, the 747 pilot, said the attacks will have a long legacy. "There are going to be some major changes in procedures."

Mica, who is chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said he plans to hold hearings next week on security programs at the FAA.

Mica said, "All of it needs updating."

Back to World & National news
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Special Links
Susan Taylor Martin

From the Times wire desk
  • Nationwide hunt spreads to 3 Florida cities
  • FBI seizes records of students at flight schools
  • Bin Laden says he's pleased but not involved
  • Ordinary flight from Boston took suspicious turn
  • Pilots trained not to fight hijackers
  • 11 die in new Mideast violence
  • NATO allies pledge to stand with U.S.
  • The flight seen by entire world
  • European airports increase security
  • As it grows dark, so does the mood in Manhattan
  • City requests 11,000 body bags
  • Floridians suffer agonizing waits and final calls that say: I love you
  • U.S. ramps up the rhetoric, weighs options
  • 35 questions
  • Smoke, dust pose disease risk, doctors warn
  • 'We'll see you when we get back'
  • Decision to stay doomed many
  • Amid grim work, the Pentagon stirs
  • Electronic cries of desperation
  • Child experts recommend being honest, reassuring with your kids
  • Tips for traveling
  • Threat kept Bush on the move
  • Unity replaces conflict as Congress gets behind president
  • Survivors, loved ones tell three tales of terror from the towers
  • New York Muslims feel the glare
  • Fliers plead for information on victims of plane attacks
  • With travel, it's catch as catch can
  • Around the nation

  • From the AP
    national wire
    From the AP
    world desk