September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Statement of Jane F. Garvey, Administrator Federal Aviation Administration Before The House Subcommittee On Aviation Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure; September 21, 2001

Statement of Jane F. Garvey, Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
Before The House Subcommittee On Aviation
Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure
On Aviation Security Following the Terrorist Attack on September 11th.

September 21, 2001.

Chairman Mica, Congressman Oberstar, Members of the Subcommittee:

I appear before you today to discuss the events of the September 11th that were so unspeakable that they were virtually unimaginable a few weeks ago. The world has been forever changed. As President Bush said, "Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country, with courage and concern for others."

As a nation, we have suffered horrific losses, but we are resolved not to allow those losses to overwhelm us. We can be proud of America's response to this crisis; the stories of heroism, generosity, and patriotism are countless and compelling. We must gain strength from these examples as we face the many challenges that lie ahead of us. On behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its employees, some of who have suffered their own devastating losses, I would like to extend my sympathies to the many thousands of Americans who were victimized by the terrorists' actions. I assure you that all 48,425 employees of the FAA will continue to work night and day to make the air transportation system safe, secure, and ready to meet the needs of our travelling public. We are committed to meeting the challenges that the tragic events of September 11th present. Our energies are focused on maintaining a safe air traffic system.

The nature of the threat facing America has changed. What we faced on September 11th was a new phenomenon -- hijackers taking over commercial flights for the sole purpose of turning them into human-guided terrorist bombs of massive explosive power. Given the events of last week, assumptions underlying aviation security have fundamentally changed.

We are working with others in government to develop a full picture of what happened on September 11th. Federal investigators continue to sift through the wreckage for additional information. Analysis of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders is underway. I cannot provide a detailed description of what we have been able learn so far in an open forum. However, what I would like to do is briefly discuss how we shut down the civil air traffic system, what new security measures are in place and how we have brought our aviation system back into operation.

On the morning of September 11th, there were 4,873 instrument flight rule (IFR) flights operating in U.S. airspace. As soon as Secretary Mineta was aware of the nature and scale of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington -- that we were faced with, not one, but four possible hijackings, and several other rumors of missing or unidentified aircraft -- the Secretary ordered the air traffic system shut down for all civil operations. Our Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) sent a verbal notice to all air traffic facilities about the first suspected hijacked aircraft at 9:06 a.m. At 9:08 a.m., a written advisory was issued that "sterilized" the New York airspace, meaning that all aircraft operating in the airspace of the New York Center were ordered to leave that airspace. At 9:26 a.m., before either American Airlines Flight 77 or United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed, a national ground stop was issued that prevented any aircraft from taking off. At 9:45 a.m. all airborne aircraft were told to land at the nearest airport -- the first time in our history that all civil aircraft in the United States were grounded. At 10:39 a.m., a formal Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was issued closing all operations at all airports.

In response to last week's unprecedented attacks, the FAA substantially increased the required security measures for U.S. airports and U.S. air carriers and foreign carriers with flights to the U.S. These measures were implemented immediately. Some are visible to the public, others are not. As you know, before we allowed our airports to reopen and air carriers to resume operations last week, airports and carriers had to meet these stringent new security measures through a certification process. I must tell you that we have had an unprecedented level of cooperation between the Federal government and the airport operators and carriers to implement these procedures so quickly and effectively.

Although the investigation of how the hijackers were able to gain control of the aircraft and what means they used to do so is still ongoing, it is apparent that enhanced security measures are essential to ensuring the security and safety of the U.S. travelling public. Following the attacks, the FAA ordered all airport terminals evacuated and required a thorough search for explosives and other dangerous weapons or objects in the terminal, using K-9 teams if they were available. Similarly, all aircraft were thoroughly inspected. Before the airports reopened (except for Reagan National Airport) and air carriers returned to the skies, new security requirements were in place.

Passengers will now find they have to adjust to new restrictions and go through more steps before boarding an aircraft -- and they must adjust their arrival times at airports accordingly. Vehicles near terminals are now monitored more closely, and unauthorized vehicles near the terminal area will be removed. We have ordered the discontinuance of curbside check-in and all off-airport check-in locations. We can no longer allow passengers to check in for their flights at hotels or other locations. Instead, we ask that all passengers with luggage go to the ticket counters to check in. Passengers without checked-in luggage can check in at the gate, but are required to show boarding passes or e-ticket confirmation letters and photo identification to pass through security checkpoints. All planes must undergo a thorough search and security check before passenger boarding can begin, and we must reserve boarding areas for passengers only. Only ticketed passengers will be allowed to proceed past airport screeners to board their flights.

At all airports, increased numbers of uniformed and plainclothes security and law enforcement officers have been deployed to provide greater deterrence, surveillance, and response in the case of an emergency. Access points to secured areas of airports have been reduced to the operational minimum and airports have increased random security checks and ID checks throughout their entire terminal areas. Knives or other dangerous objects may no longer be sold or used in the "sterile" terminal areas -- those areas beyond the security checkpoints. Similarly, all cutting instruments, including knives, scissors, and razor blades, plastic or otherwise, are banned from carry-on luggage. Although initially no cargo or mail was permitted on passenger flights, we have now allowed a carrier to accept cargo from shipping companies with well-documented, established relationships with the air carrier, or from freight forwarders with FAA-approved security programs. Letter class mail, certified as such by the U.S. Postal Service, is also being accepted for transport on passenger flights.

With respect to cargo-only flights, we have allowed them to resume operations after thorough searches of all aircraft and cargo containers. Carriers must verify the identification of and search crewmembers as well as guard and secure planes overnight.

Finally, I would like to briefly mention the FAA's Federal Air Marshal (FAM) program. It has been a valuable component in our efforts to deter terrorist hijackings outside the U.S., which is where we believed the main threat to be, based upon available intelligence. In addition to their deterrent value, Federal Air Marshals are extremely well prepared to deal with any attempt to hijack an aircraft upon which they are deployed. The events of September 11th clearly show us that the threat within the United States of terrorist team hijackings is much higher than we had previously known and that we must make every possible effort to prevent further attacks and to deal with them should they occur. Accordingly, the President has directed the expansion of the FAM program to provide a substantially increased level of coverage within the United States.

Because some aspects of this program are highly sensitive, I cannot provide details of this action in an open forum. What can be said publicly is that Federal Air Marshals are a full-time dedicated force that is continuously deployed throughout the world on all the major U.S. carriers in areas where terrorist activities indicate the highest probability of attacks. We believe that the FAM program is and will continue to be a critical element in enhancing the security of our air transportation system. It has only been a few days since these enhanced security measures were ordered. As air carrier operations gradually increase and the system is brought back to a more normal level of activity, we will continuously monitor the effectiveness of these measures and work with airports and carriers to refine them, and expand them, if necessary. At the same time, we recognize that there are still lessons to be learned from the events of September 11th. We know that, in addition to the steps we took immediately following the attacks, we also need a more deliberative examination of what we have done and what we still can do to provide all Americans with the highest possible levels of safety and security. To that end, last Sunday, Secretary Mineta created two Rapid Response Teams to provide in the near term other recommendations for improving security in the national aviation system. Working with senior DOT and FAA experts will be eight national leaders from the aviation and law enforcement communities-individuals who this Committee knows quite well. One Team will focus on increasing security at the nation's airports; the other will examine security on board an aircraft, with particular attention to cockpit access. We look forward to their recommendations, which are due no later than October 1st.

As unprecedented as shutting down the civil aviation system was, bringing it back up was a challenge we have never before faced. As Secretary Mineta directed, we have been working to incrementally restore access to our customers and the users of our National Airspace System (NAS), balancing national security, economic and operational considerations. Once new security restrictions were met, airports (with the exception of Reagan National Airport), and commercial airlines were authorized to resume civil operations, including international flights that had been stranded outside our borders, and flights that had been suspended. Repositioning of aircraft was also authorized.

We began by coordinating and authorizing all military operations, and prioritizing other aviation operations as follows:

  • recovery of diverted commercial aircraft;

  • repositioning of commercial aviation aircraft;

  • resumption of domestic U.S. flag carrier operations;

  • resumption of cargo operations;

  • resumption of air taxi and IFR general aviation;

  • opening of Alaska airspace to all IFR and visual flight rule (VFR) operations;

  • resumption of Hawaii IFR operations;

  • resumption of Canadian/American international flights;

  • resumption of international U.S. Flag carrier operations;

  • resumption of IFR business flight operations such as agricultural flights/crop dusters and scenic tour flights;

  • resumption of certain foreign-flag IFR overflights of the U.S.; and

  • resumption of most VFR general aviation (Part 91) operations (exclusions include VFR operations within the immediate vicinity of our nation's 30 largest airports, banner towing, traffic watch/reporting, airships/blimps, news reporting flight training, and sight seeing operations conducted for compensation).

  • We are continuing to work to restore more international commercial operations as they come into compliance with the new security requirements, and to review the remaining restrictions on VFR general aviation operations and prioritize their return to the NAS.


    Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you that the Secretary and I are doing everything in our power to bring the Nation's air transportation system back into full operation with the highest levels of safety possible. Working together -- Government, industry and American citizens -- we will do it. In a democracy, there is always a balance between freedom and security. Our transportation systems, reflecting the value of our society, have always operated in an open and accessible manner. And, they will do so again.

    Finally, Mr. Chairman, the President said last week "[A]dversity introduces us to ourselves. ...[O]ur fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave." I would like to include the men and women of the FAA and DOT in that company.

    That concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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