Semper Paratus

Pilot Commentary

By Capt. Wolfgang Koch (Delta), Chair, ALPA Aviation Security
Capt. Wolfgang Koch (Delta), ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Aviation Security chair, far right, moderates a panel on airspace at the Association’s 65th Air Safety Forum.

The motto of the United States Coast Guard, the coastal defense and maritime law enforcement branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, is Semper Paratus, Latin for “Always Ready.” For more than 200 years, the men and women of “the Guard” have maintained a constant, protective vigil over America’s shoreline.

As pilots, we, too, have to always be ready and ever watchful for threats against our air transportation system and the profession we all cherish. ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Aviation Security Group works tirelessly with our partners in government and industry to prevent the unthinkable. As we mark the 18th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks this month, we reflect on how far we’ve progressed in advancing our mission to safeguard the passengers and cargo entrusted to our care. But we’re also mindful that our security work is never done.

A particular concern of late has been unintentional incursions of Prohibited Airspace P-56 inside the District of Columbia and surrounding the U.S. Capitol, White House, and National Mall. When aircraft departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport encountered flight conditions that resulted in two unintentional violations earlier this year occurring within 15 minutes, the U.S. Secret Service needed to react and investigate.

Pilots fully cooperated with the agents, and we explained what happened from our perspective in terms of flight safety. They, of course, stressed their position of maintaining zero tolerance, but—together—we mutually were able to discuss our concerns and our responsibilities.

We’re also mindful of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and the potential threat they can pose. Reports of UAS sightings by manned aircraft continue to increase, and we’ve seen midair collisions with UAS in both the United States and Canada. As we discussed at the Association’s recent Air Safety Forum, reporting is critical to understanding the full scope of the issue and to working to address this potential threat. It’s critical that we know who the operator of a reported UAS is so that we can determine if the actions of the drone’s pilot were intentional, threatening, or simply the byproduct of carelessness or cluelessness.

The Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program continues to be a success for ALPA pilots and for the passengers and cargo we transport. Capt. Darrin Dorn (Alaska), the Association’s Aviation Security vice chair, has been actively working to increase the funding for this important last line of defense. He’s also been engaging with the TSA’s Federal Air Marshal training program managers to develop an advanced training course for senior-level FFDOs and improve FFDO recurrent training so that officers continue to stay active in the program.

And while an FFDO’s duty ends at the cockpit door, we also recognize that, in light of the present domestic situation, an FFDO must remain on guard and ever vigilant. The latest installment of ALPA’s “Street Smarts” videos deals with active-shooter events (see page 14). The video highlights the importance of situational awareness and amplifies the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recommended actions for ensuring your survival and helping others. The video series provides ALPA members with educational content that addresses potential threats that exist in your work environment, offering strategies to promote safe and secure operations while minimizing risks.

ALPA’s Aviation Security structure will continue to push for these and other security priorities that keep our pilots, passengers, and cargo secure and our skies safe from those who intend to do us harm. We, too, are “Always Ready.”

This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)