National Security & Interception Procedures
All pilots should review the basic intercept procedures in the AIM and the latest intercept procedures published in the current NOTAMs.
Air Line Pilot, March/April 2002, p. 25
By H. Dean Chamberlain
The above headline is not new. It is the title of Section 6, Chapter 5, Air Traffic Procedures, in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). Paragraph 2 of Section 6, 5-6-2, Interception Procedures, outlines the standard, peacetime intercept procedures that pilots can expect if they are intercepted. In light of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings and the well-publicized interception of aircraft after that date, both air carrier and general aviation types, all pilots should review the basic intercept procedures in the AIM and the latest intercept procedures published in the current Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs).
Although most interceptions in the past were of aircraft penetrating U.S. airspace, that is not necessarily true today. Although the AIM intercept procedures are those for peacetime identification of unknown aircraft entering the United States through an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), the procedure for intercepting any aircraft is very similar. In the case of several well-publicized air carrier intercepts, especially the airliner flying into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after a passenger tried to get into the cockpit, the intercepting fighters escorted the airliner to the airport.
To put this all into perspective, FAA Aviation News reprinted excerpts from the AIM and current NOTAMs pertaining to intercepts as a reminder of the recommended procedures to use in an intercept.
The following copies of NOTAMs, current as of Nov. 5, 2001, all discuss intercept procedures that pilots need to know. Because new NOTAMs can be issued at any time, pilots need to review current NOTAMs before every flight to be sure they have the latest information.
In case of any doubt, contact a Flight Service Station office at 1-800-WXBRIEF for the latest information.
!FDC 1/0329 (and FDC 1/0330 international version) FDC U.S. national airspace system intercept procedures. Until further notice, all aircraft operating in the U.S. national airspace, if capable, will maintain a listening watch on VHF guard 121.5 [MHz] or UHF 243.0 [MHz]. It is incumbent on all aviators to know and understand their responsibilities if intercepted. Review the Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 6, 5-6-2, for intercept procedures.
!FDC 1/0298 FDC flight restrictions effective immediately until further notice. Pursuant to 14 CFR section 91.137a(1) temporary flight restrictions—for reasons of national security all aircraft operations are prohibited within a 3-nautical-mile radius/3,000 feet AGL and below over any major professional or collegiate sporting event or any other major open air assembly of people, [u]nless authorized by ATC for purposes of conducting arrival/departure operations.
!FDC 1/0609 (and FDC 1/0610 international version) FDC special notice—restricted/prohibited area enforcement—effective immediately, [civil] aircraft flying inside, or in close proximity to, newly established or currently existing restricted or prohibited areas of the United States will be subject to being forced down by armed military aircraft. [T]he military has indicated that, [i]f necessary, deadly force will be used to protect these areas from unauthorized incursions. These measures are necessary in response to the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, which caused thousands of innocent civilian casualties. The military will use deadly force only as a last resort, after all other means are exhausted.
This new policy is in effect until further notice. Official charts outlining the new restricted or prohibited areas will be made available as soon as possible. These areas will be periodically revised and will therefore require that each pilot receive an up-to-date briefing on the status of these areas prior to every flight. In addition, all aircraft operating in the U.S. national airspace and in close proximity to the subject areas, if capable, will maintain a listening watch on VHF guard 121.5 [MHz] or UHF 243.0 [MHz]. It is incumbent on all aviators to know and understand their responsibilities if intercepted. Review the Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 6, 5-6-2, for intercept procedures.
AIM intercept procedures
Because of the seriousness of the above NOTAMs and the fact that FAA Aviation News does not know how long these NOTAMs will be effective, the following information is a verbatim copy of the intercept procedures in the AIM. We hope this information gives each pilot a better understanding of what to expect if intercepted by armed fighters. The time to wonder what two F-16 fighters are going to do next is not while they are joining on your wingtips.
5-6-2 Interception procedures
1. Identification intercepts during peacetime operations are vastly different than those conducted under increased states of readiness. Unless otherwise directed by the control agency, intercepted aircraft will be identified by type only. When specific information is required (i.e., markings, serial numbers, etc.) the interceptor aircrew will respond only if the request can be conducted in a safe manner. During hours of darkness or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), identification of unknown aircraft will be by type only. The interception pattern described below is the typical peacetime method used by air interceptor aircrews. In all situations, the interceptor aircrew will use caution to avoid startling the intercepted aircrew and/or passengers.
B. Intercept phases
1. Phase One—Approach Phase
During peacetime, intercepted aircraft will be approached from the stern. Generally two interceptor aircraft will be employed to accomplish the identification. The flight leader and wingman will coordinate their individual positions in conjunction with the ground controlling agency. Their relationship will resemble a line abreast formation. At night or in IMC, a comfortable radar trail tactic will be used. Safe vertical separation between interceptor aircraft and unknown aircraft will be maintained at all times.
2. Phase Two—Identification Phase
The [flight crew of] intercepted aircraft should expect to [see] the lead interceptor and possibly the wingman during this phase in visual meteorological conditions (VMC). The wingman will assume a surveillance position while the flight leader approaches the unknown aircraft. Intercepted aircraft personnel may observe the use of different drag devices to allow for speed and position stabilization during this phase. The flight leader will then [begin] a gentle closure toward the intercepted aircraft, stopping at a distance no closer than absolutely necessary to obtain the information needed. The interceptor air[crew] will use every possible precaution to avoid startling intercepted aircrew or passengers.
The interceptor aircrew will use every possible precaution to avoid startling intercepted aircrew or passengers.
Additionally, the interceptor aircrews will constantly keep in mind that maneuvers considered normal to a fighter aircraft may be considered hazardous to passengers and crews of nonfighter aircraft. When interceptor aircrews know or believe that an unsafe condition exists, the identification phase will be terminated.
As previously stated, during darkness or IMC identification of unknown aircraft will be by type only. Positive vertical separation will be maintained by interceptor aircraft throughout this phase.
3. Phase Three—Post-Intercept Phase
Upon identification phase completion, the flight leader will turn away from the intercepted aircraft. The wingman will remain well clear and accomplish a rejoin with the leader.
Communication…between interceptor aircrews and the ground controlling agency is essential to ensure successful intercept completion. Flight safety is paramount.
[The flight crew of an] aircraft [that] is intercepted by another aircraft shall immediately
1. Follow the instructions given by [the air crew of] the intercepting aircraft, interpreting and responding to the visual signals.
2. Notify, if possible, the appropriate air traffic services unit.
3. Attempt to establish radio communication with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate intercept control unit, by making a general call on the emergency frequency 243.0 MHz and repeating this call on the emergency frequency 121.5 MHz, if practicable, giving the identity and position of the aircraft and the nature of the flight.
4. If equipped with SSR transponder, select MODE 3/A Code 7700, unless otherwise instructed by the appropriate air traffic services unit. If any instructions received by radio from any sources conflict with those given by [the pilots of] the intercepting aircraft by visual or radio signals, [the flightcrew of] the intercepted aircraft shall request immediate clarification while continuing to comply with the instructions given by [the pilots of] the intercepting aircraft.
5-6-4 Interception signals
(See Table 5-6-1 and Table 5-6-2)
This information is available in both the printed AIM and the FAA’s Internet website at www.faa.gov/NTAP. The site contains the latest NOTAMs about flight restrictions and links to other air traffic publications.
This article is adapted with permission from FAA Aviation News, January/February.
See article for Tables.