The Department of Defense (DOD) recently announced that it would soon begin using a new laser-based Visual Warning System (VWS) to warn pilots who enter the Washington, D.C., ADIZ or Flight Restricted Zone without authorization and who are not in contact with ATC. ALPA representatives, including Air Safety Committee Vice Chairman Capt. Rory Kay, attended a detailed briefing and accompanied NORAD representatives on an in-flight demonstration of the system on Wednesday, April 13.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) responds to all ADIZ intrusions by general aviation aircraft and extremely rare incidents involving commercial aircraft. The VWS is intended to alert pilots to immediately turn away from the ADIZ and avoid the need for NORAD to scramble fighter jets at a cost of $30,000 - $50,000 per mission.
The system, which was developed by the US Air Force and tested by the Air Force Research Laboratory, is set to begin operation in 30 to 45 days. The laser beams an alternating red-red-green pattern that is unique and highly visible in both day and night operations. A low-intensity Class 1 device, the laser poses no threat to eye safety at any distance.
Capt. Kay and other ALPA safety experts at the demonstration confirm that the system appears eye-safe and that it should help warn pilots who have inadvertently entered the ADIZ. Given the well-known problem of illegal laser use, the intentional use of lasers to provide a government-issued warning appears counter-intuitive, but ALPA believes it may prove appropriate in this case.
At a hearing on the laser safety issue before the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee earlier this year, members of Congress urged NORAD to fully involve ALPA pilots in this project to ensure operational safety. As ALPA Executive Air Safety Chairman Capt. Terry McVenes stated in his testimony, the union’s experts stand ready to work with NORAD as the system goes into operation and will continue to monitor it.
A briefing on the NORAD Visual Warning System is located in ALPA’s Crewroom (crewroom.alpa.org). ALPA will issue an Operations Bulletin and additional information on the new system in the coming weeks.