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Pilot impersonator isn't stopped until he reaches cockpit of jet in Philadelphia

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:48 p.m.
REUTERS
Philippe Jernnard of France reportedly sought in vain to upgrade to business class before taking a seat in the cockpit.

A 61-year-old Frenchman was caught impersonating a pilot in the cockpit of a plane scheduled for takeoff and arrested at Philadelphia International Airport, police revealed on Friday.

The crew of a US Airways flight bound for West Palm Beach, Fla., found Philippe Jernnard of La Rochelle, France, in the jump seat behind the pilot on Wednesday evening. He was removed when he was unable to produce valid credentials and became argumentative, police said.

Jernnard, who was a ticketed passenger, was wearing a white shirt with an Air France logo and had a black jacket with epaulets on the shoulders, police said. He allegedly was in possession of a counterfeit Air France crew member ID card.

Air France denied that Jernnard was an employee.

It's not clear how Jernnard got into the cockpit, but one security expert said he didn't view it as a breach.

Pilots can typically ride for free in the jump seat of another airline, but they must make arrangements ahead of time and their presence would be noted on a passenger manifest. That manifest is reviewed by the pilot before takeoff — meaning that Jernnard didn't have a chance of remaining, said Douglas Laird, former security director for Northwest Airlines.

“The guy can't do any harm sitting up there. He has no access to the controls sitting there. I think the system worked,” said Laird, who now runs an airline security consultancy in Reno, Nev.

Police said there's no indication Jernnard meant any harm. A US Airways spokeswoman referred questions to the FBI, which confirmed it is investigating but declined to comment.

O'Brien said Jernnard initially became upset at the gate when he asked to be upgraded to business class.

“The (US Airways) employee gate agent told the male there was no space left in business class. He became irate,” O'Brien said.

Jernnard then boarded the plane and made his way to the jump seat.

Jernnard's stunt mirrored one by con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., whose exploits were chronicled in the 2002 hit film “Catch Me If You Can.” In the movie, Abagnale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is able to make his way into a plane's cockpit, bluffing his way past security and distracting the FBI by donning a pilot's uniform.

Abagnale, an American, was apprehended and imprisoned in 1969 in France.

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