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Old 06-21-2013, 02:02 PM   #1  
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Default Pilots Not In Command

This is an article I wrote for Avsec International Magazine that has been published this month.
It is called "Pilots Not In Command" and relates to AA24 and US1267.
I do a lot of work concerning PIC rights lecturing across the country to law enforcement about these issues.
I look forward to your comments.

Pilots Not in Command: the controversy over ultimate authority during a crisis

Last September, two aircraft threat incidents took place in the United States, both of which highlighted concerns regarding the pilot-in-command’s authority during an aviation security crisis. American Airlines flight 24 in New York and US Airways flight 1267 in Philadelphia were resolved without dire consequences, yet possibly demonstrate the need for change in law enforcement procedures when aircraft are the subject of security threats. Andrew A. Downs describes how events unfolded during the US Airways incident, the lessons to be learned and the importance of communication between flight crews, airline corporate security and law enforcement.

The incident involving American Airlines 24 at JFK on 18th September 2012 was extensively reported within the media. The plane landed and was directed to a remote area of JFK, where it was quickly surrounded by law enforcement and emergency vehicles based on a threat indicating that men with gas masks were hiding in the wheel wells with explosive devices. The tapes of the captain requesting information as to why his plane was surrounded by emergency vehicles show that, initially, his questions went unanswered by Air Traffic Control (ATC) and that the law enforcement organisations failed to communicate with him as well. It was only when the captain informed ATC that he would evacuate the plane if some information were not relayed to him as to why the plane was surrounded that information was forthcoming. The incident was resolved without injury and nobody was found in the wheel wells.

In the case of US Airways 1267 on 6th September 2012, not only was no information passed to the captain, with possible fatal consequences for all on board, but there appears to have been little communication between the police, FBI, the TSA, and US Airways Corporate Security. In other words, there were too many captains for the flight, only one of whom was in the cockpit—and he was in the dark.

US1267 took off out of Philadelphia on 6 September 2012 en-route to Dallas Fort Worth. A call was placed to the Philadelphia police department about an alleged threat by a specific individual actually on board the aircraft. The police notified US Airways Corporate Security as well as the FBI and TSA.

US Airways Corporate Security sent the crew a brief and incomplete message telling the captain to return to Philadelphia for security reasons; no other information was passed on to the captain of the plane. When the captain notified ATC about the need to return to Philadelphia, the controllers asked if there was a problem. The tower was not notified at this point. While the plane was flying back from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, a local Philadelphia radio station that was playing in the tower announced that a US Airways flight would be landing at the airport due to a bomb threat.

The controllers figured out the local radio station was talking about flight US1267 and contacted their supervisors to ask what was going on with this flight. ATC allegedly could not get information from corporate security at US Airways.

Once the plane landed at Philadelphia, it was directed to a remote part of the field, as in the case of AA24. The captain again asked what the problem was with the plane but no information was given. As the captain was trying to get information about the crisis, the B cabin flight attendant on the aircraft called the cockpit to inform him that men in black suits and guns had just opened the rear door and were coming towards the cockpit!

Philadelphia Police identified themselves as they entered the aircraft. The officers grabbed the passenger alleged to be in possession of an explosive device, from the seat identified by the caller and headed out of the plane. What the officers didn’t know was that an armed federal agent in the front of the plane had drawn his weapon and was now placed in the unfair position of having to determine whether the men in black suits were friend or foe. This plain clothed federal agent made a call that potentially saves dozens on the plane. Had he not holstered his weapon, the Philadelphia Police may have mistaken him for the actual criminal actor for whom they had stormed aboard the aircraft.
One must question why the information given by US Airways Corporate Security was not passed on to the commanders planning the operation. Were it not for the sound judgment of the federal agent, who holstered his weapon, a fire fight could have easily broken out onboard between him and the police officers raiding the plane.
It is should be noted that the passenger who was grabbed from his seat was the victim of a personal vendetta; an individual the passenger had recently irritated had called the police and named him as a threat to the flight out of spite.

FBI spokesman JJ Klaver said, “This was a joint operation between the FBI and Philadelphia Police.” While it is true the FBI took the suspect into custody, the actual raid was made by the Philadelphia Police Department.

Klaver added, “The operation went smoothly and successfully without problems.” As one airline captain with US Airways stated, “Just because someone did not die or was injured does not make the operation and the way this was handled successful.”

When asked if the captain was notified prior to the raid on the aircraft, Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan from the Philadelphia police department said, “I did not have the ability to communicate with the captain of the airplane and there was a time sensitive matter that required me to get the person in question off that airplane.”
One veteran of many hijacking investigations (e.g., TWA 247 in Lebanon) is former FBI agent Dr. Tom Strentz, who was was one of the founding agents of the first hostage negotiation team, which was established after a hijacking involving the FBI in Jacksonville, Florida in 1971. Strentz says in his new book, Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation, “We must make a reasonable effort to communicate and negotiate before we initiate an assault.”

The prevalent attitude I have experienced is that law enforcement believe that they are the only ones who are qualified to not only execute intervention with an airplane in a crisis, but that they alone should be privy to any relevant information about a given threat. This goes against US Federal Aviation Regulations and, in my view, it is a dangerous mindset for those charged with handling an aviation crisis.
The pilot-in-command, or captain, is legally responsible for the safety of all passengers on board from the time they board the plane until they disembark according to international convention and, in the US, federal law. Yet law enforcement organisations responsible for upholding those laws seem to pick and choose which ones they will adhere to when it comes to pilot-in-command authority.
While the official position of the FBI claims no mistakes were made (therefore implying that there is nothing to be learned), this is not the case with Chief Inspector Sullivan.

“We have recognised that deficiency and have worked with US Airways and they have given us equipment so that we will be able to speak to the captain when the aircraft in on the ground in the future.” He added, “Now, as far as information being passed to the captain while in the air, I do not have that ability.” And he is correct.
Today’s law enforcement does not have the ability to communicate directly with crew members in an emergency. The link between law enforcement and the crew is the corporate security at any given airline. While law enforcement has their challenges in safely responding to an aircraft crisis, the people in the ranks of corporate security have their own problems to work out.

If the crews can’t depend on their own company to give them complete information, they are in a dangerous position.

This point brings us to the role of corporate security inside US Airways. Corporate security should have notified the captain of any problem they had been aware of with the plane. It would appear that they did not inform the crew. Furthermore it seems that they also failed to notify law enforcement of the risks (ie. presences of a federal air marshal) that their officers faced in dealing with the aircraft once it landed.

Clear channels of communication, where there is a healthy exchange of information, need to be opened between corporate offices and the flight decks. That said, given the abundance of bomb threats being levelled at carriers, measures need to be in place to prevent crews effecting unnecessary divert when faced with threats deemed non specific.

Mark Vorzimmer, Director of Security for Virgin America, stated, “If we had a credible threat directed at a specific aircraft, we at Virgin Corporate Security would provide the captain with more information than a simple instruction to return to base due to a security issue”. Vorzimmer also added, there are, “a significantly large volume of events that originate aboard aircraft during the course of flying. These events necessarily put the flight deck and airline crews in the middle of the action, and as a primary source of information to airline corporate security offices, Ops Desks, and LEOs.”

“Many carriers’ corporate security departments are staffed with former law enforcement personnel who understandably have a tendency not to share information or engage the crews with threat information, given their past ways of working”, Vorzimmer continued, although he also stated that “former law enforcement working in such roles is now less prevalent”.

Geoffrey Askew, the former head of Qantas’ security department and now a consultant with Askew and Associates, explains that “The composition of each airline’s corporate security department differs in size, skills, experience, capability and ultimately corporate and industry respect. The aim however should be to ensure that corporate security in every airline understands the working of its organisation’s operations, including, and in particular, flight operations. What should be encouraged is a commitment to communications and the sharing of experiences whether that is by formal regular meetings, and/or the implementation of an exchange program between corporate security and pilot groups.”

Serious problems will exist as long as there are yawning gaps in the information available to airline corporate security, police, FBI agents and flight crew.

Since most law enforcement departments will never handle a hijacking or aviation threat, resources are not being put into educating the officers that are called out to these incidents. Vorzimmer makes the point that, “Most law enforcement agencies in the US never train with the crews that fly the actual planes. They are not informed about the different unseen hazards of each aircraft. As we know in aviation, each aircraft type comes with its own equipment, procedures and operational guidelines.” If those esoteric differences are unknown to law enforcement, unnecessary tragedies could result.

Askew adds that, “The industry, through industry associations, also has an obligation to ensure that all law enforcement agencies that could be called upon to respond to an aviation incident are educated and exercised with regard to the operations of the industry. This needs to occur not only at the command level, but also at the tactical/operations response level.”

When Vorzimmer was asked if there was resistance to adding former pilots to their ranks, he replied that, “I am not sure that is an industry priority, but pilots do have a certain knowledge that law enforcement do not have when it comes to aircraft. So, it is something that could be looked into.” Actually, my view is that this is a problem that really must be addressed. Corporate security in the airlines needs to be reaching out to the pilots to understand the culture of aviation in which they work.

If these entities fail to coordinate with flight crews, they not only put the public at risk but also place their employers in a situation where they are legally liable when things go disastrously wrong. If legitimate public safety concerns, common sense, and the well-established principle of pilot-in-command do not get their attention, perhaps knowing they have placed their companies in legal jeopardy will.
Vorzimmer pointed out that all Virgin pilots have gone through an eight-hour FAM-designed Basic Crew Member Self-Defense Training Course with the Federal Air Marshals, in addition to their classroom instruction. “That is one specific area where crews are working with law enforcement concepts. However, beyond that, it is not happening. Virgin America also uses five instructors that are or were law enforcement police academy instructors. This approach may foster better communication and understanding further down the line.
Law enforcement has to make a greater effort to communicate with the actual crews of the airlines when seeking professional input. When law enforcement calls an airline, often they do not actually speak with a pilot or operational employee. Due to the fact that the people in corporate security understandably represent the airline company, law enforcement has a tendency to assume that the people they are communicating with both have the knowledge and sufficient information to be able to provide pertinent data in order to facilitate the proper resolution of a given security situation.

Sullivan explained what happened after US1267 had been raided and the threat was determined to be a hoax. “That very same day we got immediate feedback from the pilot and chief pilot of US Airways.” This has now led to a whole new set of operating procedures for the Philadelphia police department during aviation incidents. They are now aware of the importance of communicating with the captain and crew of an aircraft that is dealing with a crisis or threat.

“It is something we just learned,” Sullivan explains. “Now we have the perspective of the individual who is ultimately responsible for the safety of that airliner and all the passengers in it.”
Sullivan and the chief pilot at US Airways have come together in a way not often seen between law enforcement and the aviation industry in the US. It is not that the Philadelphia Police were opposed to recognizing the captain’s authority, rather that they have never been educated about the need to communicate with the crew in order to best understand the many unseen hazards that abound on the field.

According to Sullivan, “Every officer on every shift has been or will be trained in the presentation the chief pilot of US Airways put together for our officers,” adding, “You have to have an all-inclusive working philosophy”. The chief pilot in Philadelphia has now been added to the department’s planning group. To those law enforcement agencies that have not taken such steps, or think the matter is unimportant, Sullivan has this comment: “I would highly recommend that my colleagues around the country sit down with pilots and the chief pilots of all the airlines that they serve and include them in their planning.”
Or, perhaps one should go one step further. A chief pilot is a definite help, because of their unique insight into the practicalities of flying and the fact that their lives are also on the line. But they are often not trained in security and may, therefore, tend to think along company lines. So, the best solution would be having a chief pilot who is also trained in security…
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Old 06-23-2013, 08:05 AM   #2  
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The fact that no one has made any comments on this story shows how nervous crews are in expressing concerns on major issues.
When I wrote this story I had to keep all the crews who would talk out of the story. Until the crews start speaking up these situations will get worse in the future.

I remain committed to PIC issues especially since they are the issues that killed my father in the hijacking of 58November. I continue to lecture to law enforcement and write articles about these concerns.
Contact me if you have issues that need to be addressed to keep crews in command.
[email protected]
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Old 06-23-2013, 04:12 PM   #3  
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Good writeup. I read about that US Airways incident in the paper, remember hearing it on frequency play out as well.

Fun facts- The guy who called the threat in was the ex boyfriend of the girl who the victim was dating... Both dudes were late 20's, she was 18 or 19. I LOVE Philly.
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Old 06-24-2013, 04:53 AM   #4  
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This all basically breaks down to a lack of coordination in sharing information between agencies and inter-agency. This is a fact of life across the board everywhere. Sharing and coordinating information within an agency (especially at the Federal level) is haphazard and non-coordinated a majority of the time. Trying to share information between multiple agencies invariably leads to these types of situations.

If you can wave the magic wand froggie and solve this age old info sharing dilemma; it is my opinion this will solve these types of situations far faster and in a more appropriate manner than any other actions taken. You cannot realistically pin blame on any one group if timely, relevant, and consistent information is not shared and provided with all parties involved. I understand people need appropriate training. However, I have seen time and time again where no amount of training helped in a situation when inaccurate or no information was provided. Actions taken by all parties involved would have been more relevant and accurate for the given situations if timely consistent info would have been shared with all parties.

Regardless of any specific training provided to any one group, unless relevant and timely information is shared with all involved in these types of incidents, it will all provide a setup for major complications! You cannot function in the blind no matter what training you may possess. Law enforcement, ATC, and the PIC could only act on the information provided (or not) to each. Each was provided with fractional pieces of information. The quality of actions is only as good as the quality of information provided.
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Old 06-24-2013, 08:39 AM   #5  
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I think it all should center around the Captain until such time as the Captain relinquishes command, voluntarily or otherwise.

All info should be given to the Captain period.

Even in cases where hijackers were in the cockpit, not one captain has ever made a decision that cost an innocent life. Law enforcement does not have that track record.

IN the case of AA24, if law enforcement knew what they were doing, they would have started their search for people in the wheel-wells somewhere around the middle marker on approach.
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Old 06-24-2013, 09:22 AM   #6  
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58November:

Regarding your statement below:

“ IN the case of AA24, if law enforcement knew what they were doing, they would have started their search for people in the wheel-wells somewhere around the middle marker on approach.”

I do not understand this statement. How could law enforcement personnel (even if they had been on-board) start a search inside the wheel-wells of an aircraft on approach?

“based on a threat indicating that men with gas masks were hiding in the wheel wells with explosive devices.”

Not happening while in the air. Not sure how that could happen on the ground with most aircraft either.

Seems to me you have a decidedly biased view against the law enforcement folks in your article.
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Old 06-24-2013, 09:54 AM   #7  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RhinoPherret View Post
58November:

Regarding your statement below:

“ IN the case of AA24, if law enforcement knew what they were doing, they would have started their search for people in the wheel-wells somewhere around the middle marker on approach.”

I do not understand this statement. How could law enforcement personnel (even if they had been on-board) start a search inside the wheel-wells of an aircraft on approach?

“based on a threat indicating that men with gas masks were hiding in the wheel wells with explosive devices.”
I'll bite, how about driving the paramilitary trucks over to middle marker, where most aircraft will have the landing gear down for landing, and use the high-power paramilitary binoculars to look inside the wheel well?
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Old 06-24-2013, 10:41 AM   #8  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RhinoPherret View Post
How could law enforcement personnel (even if they had been on-board) start a search inside the wheel-wells of an aircraft on approach?
The MadDog thoughtfully provides a periscope, located underneath a row of seats. "Excuse me folks, just a routine wheel-well check. Would you move your feet? Oooof! Ouch! Stop kicking!"
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Old 06-24-2013, 10:53 AM   #9  
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Originally Posted by tomgoodman View Post
The MadDog thoughtfully provides a periscope, located underneath a row of seats. "Excuse me folks, just a routine wheel-well check. Would you move your feet? Oooof! Ouch! Stop kicking!"
LOL!

Excuse me while I rip these floor panels up Miss.
Is that your shoe sir or do we have hung landing gear?
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Old 06-24-2013, 11:02 AM   #10  
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Originally Posted by 58November View Post
I think it all should center around the Captain until such time as the Captain relinquishes command, voluntarily or otherwise.

All info should be given to the Captain period.
Obviously they are worried that the CA [cockpit] might be compromised or involved even. This is the type of thinking that evolves from trying to cover EVERY possible scenario.

Quote:
Even in cases where hijackers were in the cockpit, not one captain has ever made a decision that cost an innocent life. Law enforcement does not have that track record.

I haven't studied every hijacking in even moderan airline travel - but this sentence seems strange.

Quote:
IN the case of AA24, if law enforcement knew what they were doing, they would have started their search for people in the wheel-wells somewhere around the middle marker on approach.
I think he means that the bodies would have fallen out of the wheel wells around the MM , though we know of people having actually made the trip (and surviving).
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