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Protecting the US Aviation Ecosystem: Part III

By Kelly Hoggan

Protecting US aviation requires a comprehensive effort by government and the private sector.

The 2018 National Strategy for Aviation Security contains a series of strategic objectives and strategic actions, all of which encompass the steps to be taken to protect the nation’s aviation ecosystem from attack. To provide robust protection, a great deal of planning on the part of the federal government and its public and private sector partners must take place, with those plans being constantly updated and revised as needs change. Here’s a brief rundown of the tasked supporting plans needed to fulfill the nation’s strategy for protecting its aviation transportation system:


Aviation Operational Threat Response


The comprehensive plan to protect US aviation transportation from emerging, specific and credible threats is known as the Aviation Operational Threat Response, or AOTR. It’s important that the US has a mechanism for not only discovering threats to aviation before they become serious but also a plan to deal with any immediate incidents as they arise and then a process for post-incident review and any lessons that can be learned from dealing with the incident and its aftermath. There are a range of federal agencies tasked with administering the AOTR, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Departments of State as well as Defense.


Aviation Transportation System Security and Recovery


Many different US agencies and organizations have designated responsibilities when it comes to the security of the nation’s aviation transport system as well as its recovery after a threat or an incident occurs. The Aviation Transportation System Security plan (ATSS) and Aviation Transportation System Recovery plan (ATSR) exist to lay out just which agencies are tasked with aviation security, in the case of the ATSS, and which agencies have responsibility for lessening the effects of any threat to the US’s aviation ecosystem as well as quickly recover from those same effects. Both the ATSS and ATSR are holistic, meaning they require government-wide responses to protecting the nation’s aviation transportation system, with DHS, DOJ, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all playing prime roles in doing so.


Intelligence, Defense, Outreach


It goes without saying that a vigorous intelligence gathering effort is required when it comes to protecting the US aviation ecosystem, which is massive in scope and scale. The US must be able to obtain effective knowledge of the threats against its aviation transportation system, including gathering and analysis of data and then effectively disseminating it to those agencies, organizations and leaders who need to know.


A modern-day threat to aviation is posed by what are called “MANPADS,” or “Man-Portable Air Defense System” anti-aircraft missiles. The US plan for defending its aviation transportation system from MANPADS devices already out of government control is encapsulated in the International Man-Portable Air Defense System Threat Reduction Plan, or IMTR. It is unfortunately a fact of life that non-state terror groups and other actors seek to obtain arms such as MANPADS with which to threaten aviation, though it’s a testament to the ability of the US and its international partners that attacks against aviation which make use of such systems are extremely rare.


The United States also recognizes that it alone can’t secure the entirety of the aviation ecosystem and so it works closely with a wide array of domestic public and private sector organizations and agencies as well as foreign and international partners to aid in the effort. The federal government maintains a Domestic Outreach (DO) plan as well as an International Outreach (IO) plan that distributes responsibility for ensuring the interest of US public and private sector partners are considered in aviation security policy plans as appropriate. Internationally, both the US Department of State and DHS have responsibility for promoting close cooperation with foreign partners, international and regional organizations and the private sector to gain support for strengthening global aviation security.


A Unified National Strategy


The US aviation transportation system is so large that no single government agency or entity could come close to protecting it all on its own, which is why the National Strategy for Aviation Security is so important. The NSAS is a unified strategy that clarifies the aviation ecosystem security plan, designates responsibilities and provides accountability mechanisms for ensuring that aviation security receives the attention and resources it deserves.

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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