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MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD Event: Staff visit to the Boston Center, New England Region, FAA Type of Event: Briefing and Scheduled Interviews Date: September 22-24, 2003 Special Access Issues: NATCA (National Air Traffic Control Association) representatives sat in on some interviews. A FAA legal representative from the New England Region attended all staff contacts with FAA personnel Prepared by: Miles Kara Team Number: 8 Location: Nashua, NH (Boston Center) and Burlington, MA (New England Region) Participants - Non-Commission: See individual interview reports Participants - Commission: Miles Kara, John Azzarello, Geoff Brown Background Summary Commission staff were able to efficiently and effectively formally interview 18 people, tour facilities at both the Boston Center and the New England Region, and accomplish discovery of four additional relevant document sources, thanks to a forthcoming, responsive reception by the Operations-Managerin-Charge, Terry Biggio. Mr. Biggio fine-tuned the visit schedule on-site to ensure that we talked to the people that would do Staff the most good in the time allotted. That required dropping some potential interviewees and adding others and making several schedule changes that impacted the FAA work force. The work force accommodated those changes and the representatives of FAA Counsel appointed to attend Staffs presence pitched in and helped out. NATCA representatives, when requested by interviewees to be present were also helpful in the overall process. The Staff left with the impression that Boston Center, Mr. Biggio in particular, wanted us to gain a complete and accurate view of their collective work under near-unprecedented pressure on September 11, 2001. The Regional Administrator took a brief exit brief from the team at which time she was advised of the support provided by Mr Biggio and staff and of the document discoveries made by the Commission staff. Major Points Discovery. Staff learned of additional responsive information that had not been provided through the document request process. Accident File. Staff learned from Mr. Bob Jones, Quality Assurance Office, of the existence of an accident file, different from the "accident package" provided by FAA to both the FBI and NTSB, and subsequently provided to the Commission in response to a document request to DoT. Among other items in the package is a reconstructed time-line based on telephone company records. Mr Jones, locally considered a hero because of his quick work in replaying the tapes of cockpit conversations that day was insistently steered our way by Mr. Biggio. After Action Review. Staff learned that the New England Region convened a round table two
weeks after Ssentemrier 1 1 "• tn r.nnHnr.t a HetaileH review of events of the Hav Staff is not aware 9/29/2003


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of any formal product that ensured, but asked that associated files and records of that event be made available to the Commission. A member of the Region's 24-hour operations center, during interview, produced a region log, a document previously not provided staff, but one that staff was certain must exist since a similar document was produced by the Eastern Region in New York. Staff has a copy of that log. Additional Transcripts. During one interview Staff became aware of a radar controller position that controlled the scrambled Otis fighters. Staff asked for information from that position. It is Staffs understanding that the only information that went into the "accident package" was data pertaining to FAA's actually contact with or handling of the four hijacked aircraft, possibly because that was the FBI/NTSB focus. That excluded any accident file information that pertained strictly to the Otis fighters themselves. The FAA legal representative said he would make sure we got the information we needed. Separately, and previously, Staff had brought to Headquarters FAA attention the lack of transcripts pertaining to the Otis fighters, aircraft that we know from other sources had been controlled by FAA, at least in part. FAA provided the tapes of Boston Center radar control positions 17R and 18R to Staff on September 25, 2003. Personal Notes. Two persons interviewed brought with them personal notes at least one set of which had been constructed a few days after 9/11. Staff asked for and voluntarily got both sets of notes. Those notes are important because both individuals worked in the Traffic Management Unit that day, the focal point for decisions made by and information flowing to the OMIC, Mr. Biggio. Boston Center Performance. To a person, Boston Center is proud of its performance that day and the Center has internalized that it did all that it could do, given the events of the day. The Senior Traffic Management Controller, Mr. Bueno, carefully and repetitively described to Staff "the box," his description of how the Center perceived that hijackings would proceed. No one seriously considered any outcome other than an airplane proceeding to an airport somewhere and landing, perhaps Cuba. The view prevailed even after the content of the cockpit communications was learned. Therefore, Boston Center controllers proceeded to do what they were trained to do; they notified supervisors as events proceeded, and then continued to try and ensure safety in the sky by keeping planes separated, from each other and from AA11, and notifying adjoining sectors within the Center and other Centers, as necessary. Determining a hijack. No one factor or combination of factors that day, other than the cockpit communications, definitely led Center personnel to a hijacking awareness. There are three such factors. Loss of Radio Contact. This phenomenon was common, to the point of being notorious. Pilots and crews were simply lax in maintaining contact. One interviewee made sure we understood the commonly misunderstood acronym "NORDO." That means "no radio" in the literal sense that the aircraft's radio(s) are not working. It is in that sense that controller 38R is captured on tape early in the AA11 story designating AA11 "nordo," implying that the pilot is in control and unable to communicate. That is different from an aircraft with a working radio, but deliberately not communicating. The term for that, Staff was told, is "NORAK," (ph) Loss of Transponder. This phenomenon is much rarer, but not in-and-of-itself, alarming. Controllers routinely ask the affected plane to "recycle your transponder." [That is the protocol used with UA175 by New York Center controllers.] Controllers generally agreed that transponder loss would be reported to the supervisor. The combination of "nordo" and transponder loss is highly unusual and many controllers had never experienced that combination. According to Mr. Biggio that combination is a sign of major equipment malfunction and at that point in the flight of AA11 would not have triggered any notion of a hijack. Course Deviation. One controller, a supervisor on duty that day as a radar associate to complete monthly qualification requirements, citied minor course deviation—AA11 failure to climb to 35000 feet—as an additional warning sign. There was no consensus on that point, but all 9/29/2003


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controllers agreed that the combination of "nordo," transponder loss, and significant course deviation—the AA11 turn to the south—was serious. However, Mr. Biggio on that point said that given a major equipment malfunction what might be happening was a pilot turning to land at a "heavy" capable airport. One controller supported that thesis, describing a "heavy" pilot as one who would try to land at Kennedy, vice elsewhere. A "heavy" aircraft is a term used by FAA controllers to describe a large aircraft such as a 747/757/767. Center personnel who observed the turn south also observed a unusually rapid rate of progress, indicatively of a pilot who wanted to get somewhere in a hurry. The Intervening Variable, Unusual Cockpit Communications. After AA11 lost its transponder and just before it made a significant course deviation to the south, unusual communications of unknown source were heard on the AA11 assigned frequency of controller 46R. It was quite clear to the controller that he had a problem and he immediately and loudly made that fact known. In a rapid sequence of events a quality assurance staff member, Bob Jones, personally went to the basement and reran the tapes and made the call that the voice said "we have some planes." Mr. Jones' accident file timeline will provide the exact time he communicated that fact to the watch desk and to Mr. Biggio. The OMIC log shows that Biggio declared a hijack, based on cockpit communications at 0825 EDT. That time appears to staff to be the time of the original communication itself and not the time that Biggio was notified by Jones. The accident file log will be determining factor. First Aircraft Impact into WTC and AA11. The Boston Center learned of developing problems in New York one of two ways. First, a CNN feed is maintained in a office contiguous to the watch desk in the center proper. Second, controllers on break typically went to the cafeteria where a CNN feed was also available. Intuitively and instinctively, Center personnel who were aware of and followed AA11 on its flight south knew that it was AA11 that impacted the north tower, irrespectively of differing information available from CNN. At least at the supervisory level, if not at the individual controller level, Boston Center personnel also understood AA11 to be slowing and descending. Staff tentatively concludes that Boston Center itself was not the initial source of confusion about AA11 after the impact of the first plane into the WTC. Nevertheless, Center personnel aware of the altitude search for AA11, southbound, were also aware of two other factors. First the last know accurate altitude for AA11 was 29,000 feet. Second, UA175, under direct query by a Boston Center controller sited AA11 at about 0837 EDT and established its altitude to be 27-29,000 feet. The Altitude Problem. FAA controllers cannot determine altitude on a non-transponding, primary-only, aircraft. Center personnel confirmed that to Staff several times over. On the other hand, air defense scope operators at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can determine altitude in that circumstance. According to the Deputy Commander at the 84 Radar Evaluation Squadron, FAA did not purchase that altitude-determining capability and, further, was considering the elimination of all primary radar returns from its en-route radar system. Most Center personnel were not aware that the Sector Area Operations Center (SAOC) at NEADS could read altitude and that might have been a reason to contact NEADS. One key person did, Colin Scoggins, a member of the TMU and the person most often in contact with NEADS. He arrived at the Sector about 0825 EDT and immediately became aware of a developing situation. His initial instinct was to stay out of the road—too many onlookers impeded the task at hand. As he became aware of a primary-only possible hijacked aircraft his immediate response was that NEADS needed to be notified so they could get altitude on the airplane. He headed for the TMU and by the time he arrived Joe Cooper was in contact with NEADS. Mr. Scoggins spend the majority of his time thereafter in intermittent direct phone contact with NEADS, primarily Major Deskins, trying to assist NEADS in gaining scope contact with AA11. His calls, however, were not on a taped line. He believes those calls were taped at NEADS. The difficulty was that NEADS wanted "lats and longs" and he was trying to give them position from a known VOR, e. g. "x" miles south of Albany. He recalled that he passed two distinct sets of lat-long coordinates to NEADS. Military Notification. No person Staff interviewed seriously considered contacting NEADS through the process on paper—FAA-NMCC-NORAD, if they were even aware of it. Dan Bueno gets high marks from Center personnel for instinctively calling FAA traffic approach personnel at the location where he knew the fighters to be—Otis AFB. Bueno called Otis because he knew "from the 9/29/2003


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eighties" that is where military assistance came from. He also considered Burlington VT and Atlantic City NJ for the same reason. Even Mr. Scoggins, who knew that the call had to go to NEADS, did not fault Bueno for trying to call the AF Wing directly through other FAA personnel. The response to Bueno's call was that Otis needed NEADS authorization. According to available transcripts the Cooper call directly to NEADS and the Otis tower call to NEADS based on Bueno's call reached NEADS at nearly the same time, approximately 0838 EDT. The Scramble. Staff learned from the controller who was on position 18R that he vectored the fighters to a holding position in area Whiskey 105, a military controlled area south of Long Island. From his perspective that was the result of several factors. There was no defined mission. There was uncertainty about the continuing threat—the first impact was an event of the past. There were also multiple controllers involved. An entity known as Giant Killer at Oceana, VA controls military traffic in the training areas, but they only control to a certain altitude. High altitude is controlled by Huntress— NEADS. The Center controller's situational awareness was that the military wanted to be positioned to vector in any direction as required and that overhead New York City did not provide that. He also ruled out supersonic flight because it, in-and-of-itself, introduced complicating air traffic control factors. Moreover, without a defined mission the usefulness of such flight was problematic. The controller had experience working Concorde flights and was used to the complicating nature of such flight. Military/FAA Relationships. There is a natural tension between the two entities because both desire the use of the same airspace for different reasons. When both entities want the same space at the same time coordination issues need to be worked out and, as in the paragraph above, multiple controllers get in the act. Staff observes, based on this single visit, that those relationships could have been smoother on 9/11, especially in the realm of information sharing. One person interviewed put it succinctly. Paraphrased, he said the role of the FAA is to keep planes separated in the air, the role of the military is to bring planes together. Those are mutually exclusive goals. Mr. Scoggins efforts in trying to translate sufficient information to allow NEADS to acquire AA11 are indicative of the need for better information sharing. As a result of the inherent tension and differing protocols and languages, military cells have been established in FAA to work day-day air space management issues. The New England Region has one such cell, a cell that also provides support to the Eastern Region in New York. Staff held a short discussion with the senior Navy officer in the cell. The cell has 2-3 person contingents from each of the three services and each reports separately to a different boss. The Army and Navy representatives report to their General Staffs at Headquarters US Army and US Navy, respectively. The Air Force Cell reports to the Air Force Liaison Officer at FAA Headquarters. All of the assigned military personnel are either flight or controller-trained and each cell exits to handle administrative matters only. There is no reason that they could have or should have been contacted or interjected themselves in the process on 9/11. The senior Navy officer put in succinctly from a military perspective. There are defined lines of communication and procedures to handle events like that and if he or his other service counterparts had gotten involved they would have just confounded the situation. Additional Items of Interest Effect of Events of 9/11. Staff experienced the breakdown of two controllers as they struggled to tell their story of the events of 9/11. Both composed themselves and completed the interview. One was one of the individuals who brought personal notes to the interview. All Staff members as well as the FAA legal representative encouraged him to allow the Commission to have a copy of valuable contemporaneous records. He had incorporated personal thoughts and notes and Staff encouraged him to provide just the factual content. He said he would consult with his family and consider our request over night. He returned the next day and handed staff a CD containing whatever portion of his notes he judged of value to the Commission. The second individual was the one who experienced discovery of the hijacking—nordo, no transponder, cockpit communications, and turn to the south. He was also interviewed by Tom Brokaw. He is upset that what is in the public domain is distorted and not what factually happened that day. Staff told him that was the reason we had come to interview him. His primary concerns are three-fold: • He is upset about the AA11 pilot getting a hero's credit for "keying the mike." He knows from 9/29/2003


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first hand listening that the hijacker was speaking directly into the microphone. That understanding is supported by Bob Jones who listened to the tapes and then re-listened to them again in the presence of an FBI agent. According to Jones, the Agent described a man talking, even spitting, directly into the microphone. Staff will ask for the 302 report concerning that event and has, but has not listened to the tape. • He is also upset with his co-workers who did not share his sense of urgency that day, especially after the plane's transponder shut and when the first cockpit communication occurred. He knew at that moment there was big trouble and he literally screamed for assistance. He perceived his supervisor's response as slow and his request for a "D side," a radar associate to assist, as not responsive to his needs. • He is also not happy with Brokaw's portrayal of what the controller was hearing and feeling that day The Region's Role. The New England Region's role appears to be primarily administrative. However, Staff reserves judgment on this point until the Region's after action review is analyzed. The so-called "ROC," Regional Operations Center, functions essentially as a switchboard to facilitate teleconferences, various ROC line-of-business (i. e. security) requirements to be on or enter Headquarters FAA tele-nets and to essentially act as a clearing house for Regional management. Fortuitously, according to Region personnel, an RMT (Regional Management Team) meeting was in session that morning and all Region entities were notified simultaneously of the developing situation. COMMISSION SENSITIVE


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