FAA Responds to 9/11 Report

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After last Thursday's report by the 9-11 Commission critiqued the FAA's response on 9/11, the FAA issued a news release in its own defense. The FAA said its actions on 9/11 "demonstrated the urgency and initiative of many employees who were acting under intense pressure." Further, "As the 9/11 commission has noted, the FAA faced a situation it had 'never encountered or trained against' and no one involved had 'perfect information' that morning." The commission report found no fault with actions taken by the rank-and-file FAA workers. "Individual FAA controllers, facility managers, and Command Center managers thought 'outside the box' in recommending a nationwide alert, in ground-stopping local traffic, and, ultimately, in deciding to land all aircraft and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly," the report said. "We do not believe that an accurate understanding of the events of that morning reflects discredit on the operational personnel from ... FAA facilities." Lower-level FAA officials at Boston Center improvised and bypassed the chain of command to take useful action, the report says. However, the report also says that communications broke down at upper levels within the FAA. "The Administrator, Jane Garvey, and her deputy had not been told of a confirmed hijacking before they learned from television that a plane had crashed. Others in the agency were aware," the report says.

Further, equipment problems prevented the FAA from immediately joining an Air Threat Conference call. When an FAA representative did belatedly join the conference, the representative "had no familiarity with or responsibility for a hijack situation, had no access to decision-makers, and had none of the information available to senior FAA officials by that time," the report says. In its response, the FAA went on to say that it now has plans and procedures in place to ensure a rapid response to any potential threat to aviation. Changes in response capability include closer coordination with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), shared radar information, and instant communications access to other government agencies. "None of us ever wants to see another September 11th, which is why the FAA is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent another similar attack," the FAA said. The commission, in closing its report, noted that the main obstacle in dealing with the event itself was that it was unforeseen: "The details of what happened on the morning of September 11 are complex. But the details play out a simple theme. NORAD and the FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11, 2001. They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never encountered and had never trained to meet."