Safety…security: they sound like they are the same thing, right? After all, they both work with the purpose of protecting someone or something from harm. So why are safety and security separated with respect to government authority and oversight?
Today, the FAA’s role is to prevent accidents or incidents involving aircraft caused by man-made errors, inclement weather conditions, mechanical malfunctions and system failures. To achieve this, the FAA performs the following functions:
- Establishes rules for air traffic management
- Oversees the licensing of space launch facilities
- Controls air traffic
- Sets standards for the operation, maintenance and manufacture of aircraft
Standards and regulations established by the FAA include the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA) for good hiring decisions; the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Misuse Prevention program for ensuring pilots are in their ‘right mind’; and duty-time limits, which prevents exhausted pilots from flying.
Just as important as a well-maintained aircraft, a pilot’s health, training and mental capacity is vital to the overall safety of the aviation industry. The FAA is also responsible for setting training requirements, evaluating a pilot’s physical health and issuing aviation-specific certificates. If a complaint has been filed against a pilot, the agency is empowered to investigate the allegations and take necessary actions, which might include suspending or revoking their pilot’s license/certificate.
Security in aviation
Intentionally-caused crashes involving aircraft have occurred since at least the 1930s, according to CNN. These incidents were either caused by firepower from the ground or an explosive device on board the aircraft. The attacks on 9/11, however, changed everything; they revealed the existence of severe weaknesses within America’s infrastructures as well as a realization that terrorist groups would use any means possible to commit violent acts and establish widespread terror. The need for a national security regulatory oversight was clear, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created with the purpose of protecting transportation systems across the country from such threats.
Those using commercial aircraft for travel see evidence of the TSA’s presence every time they walk through a passenger screening area in a metropolitan airport. Since its creation in November 2001, TSA has taken steps to tighten the security of the aviation industry, which includes the following:
- Installing detection systems in airports for explosives, drugs, certain materials, etc.
- Establishing the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, which provides pilots with firearms training and the right to carry firearms while flying
- Fortification of commercial aircrafts’ cockpits with reinforced doors to protect flight crew from weapons and unauthorized entry.
- Limits on the size of aerosols, gels and liquids in passenger carry-on bags for commercial flights
- Employee random screenings and stronger identification systems
- Creating the Secure Flight program, which pre-screens domestic air carrier flights
- Watch lists, which contain information of individuals who may pose a threat
Commercial aviation is not the only sector where new security measures have been implemented. Business and general aviation continues to expand and TSA oversees security programs for certain types of operators. For example, operating an aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of greater than 12,500 (although certain part of the regulations still state “12,5 or greater”, and those that want to land at certain airports, such as the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Have these safety and security measures gone too far?
No one likes feeling they are under a microscope – passengers, pilots, employees or operators, but the reality is these safety and security measures are a necessity in a dynamic environment that faces ongoing threat – whether insider or outside. The FAA’s safety standards and rules stop unworthy pilots from flying and keep faulty aircraft on the ground, while TSA’s role is to establish methods that strengthen the security of our infrastructure. Together, these two regulatory bodies enable the aviation industry to keep flying.