The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agency this week in Washington DC is showing off a one-of-a-kind security asset the agency designed and built to protect first responders and citizens almost anywhere in the US except Washington DC, or so it would seem.
The twin-engine Rockwell Aero Commander 680 carries a highly specialized crew and sensor suite tuned to detect trace levels of chemical and radiological agents (particularly "dirty bombs"). Officially, it's known as the airborne spectral photometric environmental collection technology (ASPECT) equipment.
ASPECT has been providing quick-response chemical detection services since 2001, and has recently been upgraded to carry gamma-ray capturing devices to ferret out radiological threats.
By flying a certain pattern over a particular site, the sensor suite captures electro-optical, infrared and gamma ray data while an operator in the back of the aircraft uses specialized algorithms to perform real-time analysis of the threat, sending actionable information to first responders through satellite links.
In what must be the ultimate "security" irony however, this national asset, designed to protect the citizenry and first responders (who paid for it with their tax dollars) cannot today be deployed in the city that probably needs it most - the destination with a terrorist bulls eye smack dab in the middle - Washington DC.
That's right, the general aviation and air taxi "no-fly" zone (in pink in the picture below)...
...put in place after the 9-11 attacks and controlled by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) prevents ASPECT's civilian operators from flying into the area, even though the aircraft belongs to the EPA, a government agency.
This week requests by the crew and the EPA for a one-day waiver to enter the no-fly zone, a permission granted to a select group of pilots after they've been fingerprinted, criminal background checked and "vetted" by the TSA, were denied by the TSA.