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Utah Air National Guard helps in Homeland Defense

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's just another day for the fighter pilots on-call at one of the various alert sites around the nation when the call comes in. An unidentified aircraft has entered restricted airspace and two fighter jets are scrambled to intercept the aircraft. Their job is to get the pilot of the unauthorized plane to divert its course and escort it from restricted airspace, or as a last resort, to shoot the aircraft down in order to protect a specific location or event. 

Such incidents occur more often than most of us realize.

Temporary Flight Restrictions are often imposed during National Security Special Events, limiting the airspace into which someone can fly without prior clearance. Some events that usually warrant a TFR are space shuttle launches, Presidential State of the Union addresses or inaugurations, Super Bowls or G20 summits. It is during these special events in particular that the 101st Information Operations Flight, in support of the 601st Air Operations Center, is working to reduce TFR violations and to help make the skies above the continental United States safe.

This past November, the 601st AOC came to an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team to utilize an FAA system to disseminate information to General Aviation aviators.

The FAASTeam has created a system that helps all pilots become better informed of events that may impact flying safety and security. The Safety Program Airmen Notification System is the system through which the 601st AOC will be able notify pilots of upcoming events that could affect airspace and national security.

Capt. Todd Lobato of the 101st IOF, Utah Air National Guard, recommended the use of the SPANS program as a cost effective way to reach almost every General Aviation pilot and instructor in the United States. Captain Lobato has been using SPANS for aviation safety notification for several years in his civilian job with the FAA and realized the potential the program has for the 601st AOC to carry out its mission defending U.S. airspace.

"That's one of the strengths of the National Guard in general and the 101st specifically," said Lt. Col. Kevin Nuccitelli, 101st IOF commander. "Our citizen Soldiers and Airmen bring a broad variety of skills and contacts from their civilian employment which helps them to be more effective in their National Guard position."

During a November meeting, the 101st IOF, the 601st AOC and the FAASTeam outreach program manager, Mr. Bryan Neville, agreed to use the SPANS for significant national security events. In the same month, a SPANS notice was sent out advising pilots that there would be fighter aircraft in and around Cape Canaveral, Fla. in conjunction with the space shuttle launch. There were 18,066 notices sent to pilots and instructors within a radius of 150 nautical miles of the launch site. The notice provided aviators with advisory information along with a poster and a link to obtain details about the TFR in place for shuttle launch security.

The FAA is responsible for the air traffic operations and the enforcement of aviation regulations. The Air Force and the 601st AOC are responsible for air defense of the United States. These two organizations have come together in the spirit of cooperation to reach out to all aviators throughout the United States to help educate them and ensure they have the situational awareness needed while navigating the national airspace.

The FAASTeam has developed a website that is quickly becoming the most used aviation online resource at www.faasafety.gov . The website provides pilots with numerous resources, including official FAA training courses, as well as information on the new Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area, formerly known as the Air Defense identification Zone and the Flight Restricted Zone. There are also numerous links to other safety and national security topics, to include the Department of Defense site - www.seeandavoid.org -- that depicts the status of Special Use Airspace and Military Training Routes. The FAA is continually updating and upgrading their website to meet the ever increasing requests and demands, and to make their site more user-friendly.
The partners involved hope that these coordinated efforts will greatly reduce the number of TFR violations and reduce the risk of having to shoot down an aircraft whose pilot erroneously travels into restricted airspace.

"Most TFR violations occur because the pilot wasn't aware of the restrictions," explained Captain Lobato. "The last thing we want to have happen is for some innocent person to be shot down simply because he didn't realize there was restricted airspace in the area."