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THE MAY 11 INCIDENT THAT LED TO THE EVACUATION OF THE US CAPITOL, WHITE HOUSE AND SUPREME COURT

STATEMENT OF

MICHAEL A. CIRILLO
VICE PRESIDENT, SYSTEM OPERATIONS SERVICES
AIR TRAFFIC ORGANIZATION,
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION

ON

THE MAY 11 INCIDENT THAT LED TO THE EVACUATION
OF THE US CAPITOL, WHITE HOUSE AND SUPREME COURT

JUNE 9, 2005.

Chairman Stevens, Senator Inouye, Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) responsibility in matters involving general aviation security, particularly in and around the Nation’s Capital.  This includes the role FAA played with respect to the incident that occurred on May 11, 2005, which led to the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court.  I will also discuss how FAA will help implement the Administration’s recent decision to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to general aviation on a limited basis.  It’s a pleasure to be here with my colleague from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

As you know, since September 11th, security in and around our Nation’s Capital has changed significantly.  With respect to aviation, a number of restrictions and procedures have been put in place that were designed to protect the significant assets in this area.  At the outset, I would note that the restrictions and requirements for operating aircraft in this area are unique.  Ordinarily, a general aviation aircraft operating at low altitudes and under visual flight rules (VFR) could operate legally within the National Airspace System without filing a flight plan or communicating with air traffic control.  Flights occur all the time around the country without direct FAA control or contact.  For obvious reasons, however, that is not the case in this area.  When aircraft approach the national capital region, we want to know who they are and where they are going. 

There are two airspace zones established around the national capital region.  There is a 2,000 square mile area surrounding Washington’s three major airports known as the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  How flights are handled heading toward or entering the ADIZ varies depending on the existing threat level, but generally aircraft operating in the zone are required to file a flight plan, be in continuous communication with air traffic control, and have a functioning transponder that transmits a discrete or uniquely identifiable code.  Within the ADIZ and extending approximately fifteen miles around the U.S. Capitol is the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ).  Additional operating requirements apply to general aviation aircraft operating within the FRZ, including applying for and receiving a TSA and FAA waiver.

Unidentified aircraft operating in restricted airspace are taken very seriously.  FAA is a member of the National Capital Region Coordination Center (NCRCC), a group comprised of representatives of security and military agencies to ensure that, in the event of a threat from an unidentified aircraft, coordinated action can be taken to appropriately address the threat and keep the region safe.

An analysis of what happened on May 11, 2005 will serve as a good example of how FAA interacts with other agencies when an unidentified aircraft approaches Washington, D.C.  At 11:28 a.m., FAA and the NCRCC became aware of an aircraft entering the ADIZ from the northeast, approximately 44 miles from DCA.  The FAA’s watch officer for key communications working with the Domestic Events Network (DEN), contacted the Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control (Potomac TRACON), which confirmed to participating NCRCC agencies that the aircraft was not in communication with air traffic control, had not filed a flight plan and that its transponder was transmitting a generic, rather than a unique code.  At this point, the aircraft was considered to be a track of interest (TOI).  Because the aircraft was flying just within and parallel to the northern boundary of the ADIZ, it was not considered an immediate threat and, while it was monitored closely, no intercept action was taken at this point. 

The aircraft subsequently turned southbound toward the FRZ, the second restricted zone surrounding the Capitol.  This information was communicated on the DEN to the participating NCRCC agencies.  At this point, the Customs and Border Protection Office of Marine Operations (AMO) ordered the launch of its Blackhawk helicopter and Citation jet aircraft from DCA.  In addition, two F-16 aircraft were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base.  The AMO Blackhawk initially intercepted the aircraft about 10 miles north of the Capitol.  When the aircraft continued to proceed south toward the Capitol, the F-16s moved in to intercept.  The aircraft was visually identified as a high-winged, single-engine Cessna-type aircraft. 

Attempts by the Blackhawk helicopter to signal to the pilots of the Cessna and get them to communicate on an emergency frequency were initially unsuccessful.  At noon, the Department of Defense authorized the F-16 pilots to use flares.  The flares were dispensed when the aircraft was 6.7 miles from DCA.  At this time, the Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police made the decision to evacuate the White House and the Capitol, respectively.  The Blackhawk continued to signal to the pilots to get them to communicate with them.  Ultimately, the Cessna pilots were able to make contact with the AMO Citation on an emergency frequency and the Cessna turned west.  The Cessna proceeded through the prohibited airspace over the Naval Observatory with the F-16s in escort.  As the aircraft exited the FRZ, the Blackhawk joined the escort north.

The Potomac TRACON reported on the DEN that the pilots were in communication with air traffic controllers at 12:22 p.m.  The pilots reported to the controllers that they had been instructed to proceed to the airport in Frederick, Maryland.  Escorted by the Blackhawk and the F-16s, the aircraft exited the ADIZ at12:25 p.m. and landed in Frederick at 12:39 p.m.  During the flight, Potomac TRACON controllers communicated with the pilots several times to tell them how far they were from the airport and to warn them to look for other VFR traffic.  There was little communication back from the pilots of the light aircraft to the controllers during the flight. 

The Secret Service sounded the all clear at the White House at 12:14 p.m. and the U.S. Capitol Police sounded the all clear at 12:40 p.m.  Upon landing, the occupants of the aircraft were taken into custody by the FBI, Secret Service, and Maryland state authorities for questioning. 

In this instance, we consider the interaction of the agencies to have worked as intended.  The communication and interface that took place during this incident were an improvement over the interagency communication that took place during the incident last June involving the Governor of Kentucky’s plane which, on approach to DCA, was known to FAA controllers, but appeared as an unidentified aircraft to the other members of the NCRCC.  By contrast, on May 11th, the decision to evacuate the Capitol and the White House was made by the U.S. Capitol Police and the Secret Service based on the accurate information that an unknown aircraft operator had penetrated the ADIZ and the FRZ, was heading toward the Capitol, and was not immediately responding to the intercept.  Once the aircraft changed direction away from the areas of concern, an all clear was announced.  All agencies in the NCRCC learned from the June 2004 event and, as a result, today, both FAA controllers and NCRCC members are seeing and acting on the same information.

After federal and state authorities questioned the occupants of the aircraft, they determined that there was no criminal intent involved in their actions and they were released.  One of the individuals, Hayden L. Sheaffer, held an FAA pilot’s license.  The other individual, Troy Donovan Martin, holds a student pilot certificate.  Although Mr. Martin was manipulating the controls of the aircraft during the entire incident in question, Mr. Sheaffer, by virtue of being the only fully certificated airman in the aircraft, was pilot-in-command of the flight.  As such, he failed to navigate properly and to check adequately for, and adhere to, airspace restrictions during the flight.  This resulted in the aircraft penetrating the Class B airspace around BWI Airport, the restricted airspace around the national capital region (both the ADIZ and the FRZ), and the prohibited airspace over the Naval Observatory without authorization and in violation of FAA regulations and procedures.  His inability to navigate adequately, his lack of knowledge of how to respond to an intercept, his failure to communicate with air traffic control despite being lost in controlled and restricted airspace, have led FAA to conclude that he lacks the qualification required to hold an airman pilot’s certificate.  Therefore, on May 20, 2005, FAA issued an emergency order revoking Mr. Sheaffer’s pilot’s license.  The emergency nature of the order means that the revocation is effective immediately.  Mr. Sheaffer appealed both the merits of the revocation and the emergency nature of the action to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  On June 3, 2005, an NTSB administrative law judge (ALJ) sustained the emergency nature of FAA’s revocation and set a hearing date of June 15 and 16 to adjudicate the merits of the action. 

The ALJ’s ruling could be appealed to the members of the NTSB.  A final NTSB decision is appealable to the U.S. Courts of Appeal.  Because Mr. Sheaffer’s case is ongoing, I am limited in what I can discuss with respect to our investigation and subsequent enforcement action. 

While Mr. Sheaffer’s case received an extraordinary amount of media attention due to how far into the ADIZ and FRZ he penetrated and the resulting evacuations, ADIZ violations are fairly common around the D.C. area.  Most are inadvertent and the pilots do not travel very far into the restricted area.  Although not all pilot deviations have resulted in enforcement action, the FAA has taken enforcement action against approximately 600 pilots for violations of the ADIZ since the beginning of calendar year 2003.  Our sanction guidance recommends a 30 to 90 day suspension of a pilot’s license for a typical ADIZ violation.  However, that guidance does not preclude imposing a more severe sanction should the circumstances warrant.  In one case, a revocation was sustained due to the intentional nature of the violation.  The case against Mr. Sheaffer is not just an ADIZ case.  It involves his basic qualifications to hold an airman pilot certificate.

The other major security issue concerning general aviation in this area is the continued restriction in place that effectively prevents general aviation aircraft from using Reagan National Airport.  This restriction has been in place since September 11, 2001.  I know that this Committee has long supported reopening National Airport to general aviation and I am pleased to say that on May 25, 2005, the Administration, under the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA announced a plan to do just that.  As the agency that has control over the airspace, FAA’s role in implementing this plan is critical, but limited.

FAA will work with TSA and other stakeholders to solidify all procedures and requirements necessary to implement the Administration’s plan.  The FAA’s representatives at the NCRCC and the DEN will develop procedures to timely disseminate and validate information on all approved aircraft and operators.  We are working on a Web based program to streamline this process.  FAA will also be responsible for issuing advisory circulars and notices to airmen to pilots that include all new procedures put in place.  At this time, we do not anticipate that approved general aviation aircraft will be required to install special equipment beyond what would already be required.  Obviously, reintroducing general aviation to DCA will be monitored closely by all interested agencies and adjustments to the plan may be made as necessary.  We see the announcement of this plan as a significant benefit for general aviation in the DC area.

In conclusion, I would like to say that, although the May 11 incident was disturbing and resulted in an evacuation of thousands of people, causing alarm and uncertainty for a period of time, the system worked as it was designed to.  NCRCC member agencies coordinated their decisions based on accurate information that was shared in real time.  While it is always appropriate after an event such as this to review whether and to what extent the government’s responses were proper, from a coordination and communication standpoint, the FAA believes the system worked.

This concludes my statement.  I will be happy to answer your questions at this time.

Witness: 
MICHAEL A. CIRILLO, VICE PRESIDENT, SYSTEM OPERATIONS SERVICES, AIR TRAFFIC ORGANIZATION, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
Testimony Mode: 
Testimony Date: 
Thursday, June 9, 2005
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