The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. As part of this effort, the FAA places a high priority and considerable resources on threat management.
The FAA’s Office of National Security Programs & Incident Response uses agency-level emergency readiness, crisis management, intelligence threat identification and analysis, and national security to support national airspace and aerospace safety and security.
As part of its threat management responsibilities, the FAA:
- Conducts intelligence analysis and threat warnings, provides stakeholders with relevant information, and serves as the FAA intelligence lead on all security threats to theNational Airspace System (NAS), FAA mission areas, and regulated operators and airmen.
- Coordinates agency support of U.S government aviation national security programs.
- Serves as the principal point of contact for the National Capital Region (NCR) in response to aviation related threats, including Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and laser incidents.
- Coordinates the FAA’s emergency management efforts, including continuity of operations and all hazards planning.
- Serves as the primary coordinator within the FAA on agency actions, messaging, and requests relating to UAS security.
- Ensures the safety of the NAS by investigating pilots with specific criminal offensesand prohibiting access to the NAS for those who exhibit reckless behavior or potential substance dependence.
- Supports law enforcement in denying access (e.g., certificate action) to the NAS by aircraft and individuals transporting illicit drugs, committing criminal acts, or otherwise posing a threat to national security by violating Federal Aviation Regulations and U.S. laws.
The FAA’s threat management is based on a process of assessing risks and threats for domestic and international aviation. The assessment is a constant conversation, which includes timely and relevant information sharing between all stakeholders – the FAA, Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), International partners, and the airlines.
The Washington Operations Center is the foundation of the FAA’s threat monitoring and management operations. The center provides 24-hour monitoring of the NAS, collects & disseminates information, and serves as a fusion center for emergency activities.
The agency uses the crisis preparedness and response process to proactively assess and prepare contingency planning for emerging concerns, and to respond to no-notice threats and hazards that affect FAA equities and civil aviation in the U.S. and overseas. The FAA also coordinates agency preparedness and planning for high-profile planned events, such as presidential Inaugurations, State of the Union addresses, and the Super Bowl to name a few.
The FAA has a process to share information, coordinate internally, collaborate with external partners, and support decision-making across its lines of businesses, staff offices, and regional offices whenever there is an incident, crisis, or threat affecting FAA employees, facilities, the NAS, or U.S. civil aviation worldwide. This process supports the FAA’s responsibilities to sustain the organization’s domestic and international mission-essential functions as well as its broader support to the U.S. government’s homeland-security, emergency-management, and national-security coordination efforts.
The information-sharing process starts with an incident synchronization call to assess the incident, scope the impact on FAA equities, and determine whether to convene the Crisis Response Working Group. Additionally, senior FAA managers may also be tasked by the Department of Transportation to participate when the Department of Homeland Security convenes an Interagency Incident Management Group.
A Crisis Response Working Group, in coordination with other FAA lines of business, could be called into action to conduct incident management and to coordinate the FAA response that may include:
- A hijacking.
- An airborne aviation hazard, regardless of its nature.
- A situation requiring the implementation of the FAA Plan for Sustaining Essential Government Services during a pandemic.
- Major equipment outages impacting the NAS.
- The force down or detainment of a U.S. aircraft outside the United States.
- Cyberattacks, including addressing appropriate follow-up actions to prevent or mitigate the recurrence of such events.
- A forced landing of a commercial or civil aircraft in the NAS due to national defense or homeland security concerns.
- An international situation in which military or paramilitary action could pose a risk to the safety of civil aviation abroad.
- The shoot down of a civil aircraft by a foreign state.
- Significant adverse weather, natural, and technological disasters.
The FAA’s response to threats ranges from temporary and limited in scope such as temporary flight restrictions (TFR), to the partial or complete shutdown of the NAS.
For future or anticipated threats, the FAA uses threat-management modeling to predict airspace threats and interruptions and can issue a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) to disseminate timely information to personnel and organizations concerned with the safe operation of a given airspace.