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Protecting the US Aviation Ecosystem: Part II

By Kelly Hoggan

Defeating the US aviation ecosystem's adversaries requires a total intelligence gathering effort.

As noted in the federal government’s 2018 National Strategy for Aviation Security, or NSAS, the US has for nearly 20 years been hard at work “implementing a comprehensive and integrated approach to protecting the aviation domain.” Such an approach involves both the public and the private sectors and it is indeed a huge undertaking, given the fact the US has the largest aviation transportation system in the world. Protecting and keeping safe such a diverse “ecosystem” is vital, given aviation’s crucial role in getting people and goods from one point to another as well as the impact that ecosystem has on the nation’s economy. In Part II of this look at the US aviation ecosystem we’ll briefly examine some of the strategic actions the US takes to keep aviation safe and secure.


Aviation Domain Awareness


The United States can’t protect itself if it doesn’t know what’s going on in terms of threats against it, and that includes keeping an eye on and protecting its aviation transportation system. In this regard, the US is constantly updating its ability to collect and integrate data and intelligence from a vast array of sources. Data collected from law enforcement, from various intelligence gathering efforts, and open-source (meaning, non-classified) information from many different public and private entities is collected, collated, analyzed and then utilized to defend against potential threats. Because the United States is a free and open society, and one that most especially values privacy and civil liberties, all of these domain awareness activities must also be carried out in a way that adheres to a wide variety of privacy protection laws.


Anticipate Threats


A good defense is one that constantly scans for threats and also tries to anticipate and predict any vulnerability to the systems it’s protecting. In helping keep US aviation safe, the federal government works with its private and public sector partners to first identify any weaknesses in the defenses put in place to protect aviation and then develop courses of action to eliminate them. The government also constantly works to not only improve its intelligence gathering and analysis efforts but also to share the fruits of such labors with what it calls its “domestic and international aviation stakeholders” in the public and private sectors.


Strengthen Security


Effectively protecting the US aviation ecosystem requires that a ‘layered security’ approach be utilized. In other words, many different security layers, each one complimenting the other and each with its own protective characteristics, are applied to the aviation transportation system to protect it. For its part, the federal government has forged an aviation security partnership between it and its private and public sector partners (other federal, state and local government agencies, airports, airlines, cargo shippers and the like). Doing so allows the whole security entity to be much stronger in defending US aviation than each individual piece of the entity would be by itself.


Ensure Continuity and Resilience


When you consider the sheer scope and size of US aviation you begin to understand the enormity of the task when it comes to protecting it. For a fact, the US and its public and private sector partners must succeed 100 percent of the time in protecting the aviation ecosystem while those wishing to do it harm only have to succeed once. However, it’s a true testament to the US aviation security effort undertaken by the government, airports, airlines, cargo shippers, travel agencies and everyone else involved in aviation transportation that successful attacks against the nation’s aviation ecosystem are almost unheard of.


Be that as it may, it’s still necessary to have a plan in place for dealing with the effects of a successful attack against US aviation. An important part of dealing with any sort of threat to aviation includes getting the ecosystem back up and running in as safe and secure a manner as possible and as soon as practicable after an attack is carried out. For one, doing so demonstrates to the world that US aviation is highly resilient and can continue to move vast numbers of people and enormous amounts of cargo in the face of any threat to it. For another, those seeking to do harm to aviation in the future may be discouraged from doing so after seeing just how quickly it can bounce back after it’s been threatened.


Planning is Paramount


There’s an old saying that “those who fail to plan are just planning to fail.” In Part III of this series we’ll examine the role of planning when it comes to keeping the US aviation ecosystem not only safe and secure but also growing and thriving.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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