An American businessman who has traveled Malaysia Airlines scores of times says the pilots did not always keep their cockpit door locked during flights.
The businessman’s account comes amid a weeklong search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and offers potential insight into security on board the missing jetliner.
The business executive, a former pilot who rides first class as he conducts aviation sales in the region, said he noticed crews would enter what appeared to be an unlocked cockpit area during flight. He said business colleagues noticed the same thing.
The executive, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to publicly discuss his travels, said that he decided to test the cockpit door during a flight.
After using the front restroom, he took a few steps and tried to open the door. He found it unlocked, closed it and returned to his seat.
“The airline industry does not have the same strict adherence to flight rules as we do,” the executive said. “From personal experience it would seem to be easy for someone with half a plan to enter the cockpit and take control.”
The Boeing 777, which was carrying 239 passengers and crew on March 8 on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, has an excellent safety record.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that the missing aircraft was deliberately steered off course and communications links turned off.
The country has opened a criminal investigation to determine if the crew, and, or passengers hijacked the plane.
In 2002, the Malaysia Department of Civil Aviation issued a directive that requires cockpit doors to be locked.
It states that the flight deck door “shall be closed and locked from the time all external doors are closed following embarkation until any such door is opened for disembarkation, except when it is necessary to allow access and egress by authorized persons. Operators should prohibit possession of flight deck door keys by those members of the crew not assigned to the flight deck.
Whether the cockpit door was locked or unlocked on Flight MH370 is not known.
Hugh Dunleavy, commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, said the company maintains strict cockpit security. He disputed the account of a South African woman who said that the co-pilot of flight MH370, Farid Ab Hamid, had let her ride in the cockpit during a flight.
“Because just getting into that area requires you to go through the secure doors that we have in the cabin all the time,” Mr. Dunleavy told Reuters news agency. “And not only would that have been unusual, but it also would have meant you’d have to walk by our cabin crew as well, and have the code to get through. So I’m dubious, but I’m going to let the authorities investigate and tell us what happened.”
In response to al Qaeda’s hijacking of four airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules requiring reinforced, locked doors to protect cockpits from intrusions on American airliners.