Given the increase in air traffic and in the number of public and private players in aerospace, France needs to strengthen the synergy between the various national bodies that are key to development in the sector.
State Activity in the Air
Activity of the state in the air is often thought to be limited to security and air safety, and yet it is remarkable for the many fields with which it interacts. Development of national economic and industrial structures at a time of ecological transition, the importance of the air sector for tourism, town and country planning, international trade and maintenance of stock levels are just some of the areas for which the highest levels of security and safety are required. So long as all the players concerned by the development of the air sector coordinate their policies, state activity in the air contributes to facilitating national growth.
Defence and national security
The Prime Minister is the guarantor of governmental action in the field of defence and national security and is in charge of national policy on the matter. He calls on the administration and the armed forces to carry out this policy and together with other concerned ministers he assumes responsibility for it before parliament. National security policy cuts across the major traditional ministerial functions, including defence, foreign policy and domestic security.
The aim of the national security strategy is to identify all threats and risks likely to affect the life of the nation, and in particular protection of the population, integrity of the territory, preservation of vital interests the continued functioning of institutions of the Republic. It determines the responses that the public powers must make to them. The Prime Minister is supported by the General secretariat for defence and national security (Secrétariat général de la défense et de la sécurité nationale—SGDSN), which coordinates preparation of measures in accordance with the national security strategy and which ultimately puts them into practice.
Starting with analysis of the threats that could prejudice national interests, the SGDSN is responsible for devising the response of the state. Its action is divided into security measures that range from the long-term prevention of malevolent acts to the shortest possible notice reaction required to counter aggression.
Policy for air security
For matters in the air, the Prime Minister is assisted by an Inter-ministerial committee for air security (Commission interministérielle de la sûreté aérienne—CISA) that sits twice a year. Under the authority of the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, the CISA brings together representatives of relevant ministries and directorates general and of the Air defence and air operations command (Commandement de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes—CDAOA). It is the decision-making body that ensures coherence of national policy on security and air defence. Working from the decisions of the CISA, the Prime Minister delegates to the SGDSN the responsibility for overseeing inter-ministerial coherence in the measures to be taken, in order that the level of protection afforded to vital interests against a malevolent act is constantly improved. Seen through the prism of the threat, the air environment stands out by virtue of its globalisation, the intrinsic vulnerability of aircraft, the high number of passengers transported, the violence of accidents—the majority of which lead to catastrophes that cause numerous victims, its high level of media interest, the serious economic consequences of an incident and also the psychological impact on the population that suffers an attack.
Because of this, the state is prepared to react immediately to any aggression towards the air sector. With a set of permanent security measures available to him, and taking account of the assessment of any particular threat, the Prime Minister can decide on the activation of the governmental plan of response to a crisis in the air sector as soon as the situation demands. Piratair-Intrusair measures add to those that might be applied form the moment the integrity of an aircraft or its passengers is threatened, an airport installation is targeted or an intrusion into airspace is established. A malevolent act could be of any nature: hijacking of an aircraft, hostage-taking, attack within an airport’s infrastructure or cyber attack on air navigation systems, to mention but a few.
It is a peculiarity of the air environment that the Prime Minister himself assumes operational responsibility. In this regard he has a direct link to the commander of the CDAOA, represented by the High authority for air defence (Haute autorité de défense aérienne—HADA), in order to decide upon immediate air security measures, for which the combat aircraft and helicopters of the Air Force are the strong arms. Given how quickly a crisis develops in the air environment, it is through this reactivity that the state can permanently ensure the protection of national airspace and French citizens.
If proposed by the SGDSN, he could also decide to activate the Inter-ministerial crisis cell (Cellule interministérielle de crise—CIC) in order to concentrate the efforts of all ministries and operators on resolution of the crisis. The CIC unites experts from ministries and administrations, and also the CDAOA, to maximise the effectiveness of assets and to offer the highest authorities of the state the best response to the aggression suffered by the air sector. The CIC is permanent liaison with the departmental prefect concerned, who is the director of operations in his area in accordance with his territorial responsibilities.
Action of ministries and central administrations
The Directorate general of civil aviation (Direction générale de l’aviation civile—DGAC), an administration of the Ministry for ecological transition, brings together all the services of the state whose functions cover the regulation and supervision of air security, air transport and civil aviation activity in general. On the first point, it is responsible for air traffic control, supporting R&D in aeronautical construction and for the certification of aircraft. Regarding safety, with the support of domestic security forces and the facilities provided by the operators, it ensures that the best level of passenger and freight checking is performed, starting as far as possible upstream of any journey to the moment of embarkation in the aircraft.
Principally through use of its specialised forces—the border police and the Air transportation gendarmerie (Gendarmerie des transports aériens—GTA)(1)—the Ministry of the interior ensures the safety of civil air transport in their respective areas of responsibility. With support from the intelligence services, domestic security forces supervise the day-to-day security of passengers and freight from airport screening inspection points through to aircraft parking aprons.
Once the aircraft is in the air, the Air Force takes over responsibility for it as part of the CDAOA’s safety mission. The latter must at all times and in all places keep watch on national airspace and ensure that no flights there present any risk, not only to aircraft and their passengers but also to third parties on the ground. As required it activates Air Force intercept units, to bring aid to an aircraft in distress, to remove doubt from an uncertain situation or to put an end to any threatening situation. It also provides the search and rescue service for aircraft in uncertain situations and in distress in national territory.
The National centre for air operations (Centre national des opérations aériennes—CNOA) is the Air Force organisation that permanently guarantees the integrity of national airspace. It verifies the correct allocation of military air assets, and that they are appropriate for detection of mobile contacts, their identification or interception in the air. It maintains close links with civil aviation, the national police force, the national gendarmerie and the customs authorities, and also with all bordering foreign military authorities and NATO. This gives it the ability to coordinate and optimise its actions with partners, and ultimately to offer the Prime Minister the best response to a crisis situation, whatever the circumstances.
In the field of civil security the Ministry of the interior’s Directorate general for civil security and crisis management (Direction générale de la sécurité civile de la gestion des crises—DGSCGC) operates dedicated air assets. Helicopters and aircraft can be committed at short notice as soon as a crisis poses a risk to the population. Closely followed by the media in summer, the specialised aircraft for fighting forest fires are put under the responsibility of the prefect of the department from the moment they are committed. The highly reactive equipment of the DGSCGC can usefully benefit from optimised freedom of action once the CNOA is in a position to ensure it exclusivity in its manoeuvre area.
The Directorate general of the national gendarmerie (Direction générale de la Gendarmerie nationale—DGGN) has aircraft for its public security duties, which can also be brought into action for the resolution of a civil security crisis. They are particularly adapted to rescue and intervention missions in specialised environments, such as at sea and in the mountains.
The Directorate general of customs and indirect taxation (Direction générale des Douanes et des droits indirects—DGDDI) is a further actor in the air. Responsible for monitoring flows of freight, it has responsibilities for air freight and passengers’ luggage too. In cooperation with the border police it ensures personnel checks at the boundaries of the Schengen area. It has a range of helicopters and aircraft in addition to its ground and maritime equipment.
Whenever state action in the air has implications beyond our borders, the Ministry for Europe and foreign affairs is called in. It is informed if French interests are threatened in a third party country, and support from the embassies is then sought. It will also be informed when foreign interests are threatened in France, for example when a foreign-flag airline is concerned or when there are foreign passengers in a French plane.
Contrary to the maritime and ground environments, which have dedicated prefectural authorities, other than for the activation of the CIC the air does not enjoy the sort of arrangement capable of federating the air assets of all ministries in order to optimise their use. That said, the CDAOA has capabilities and prerogatives that allow it to initiate protection measures from the very first moments of a crisis. This opportunity, probably insufficiently used, requires better communication with territorial civil authorities. The will to unify efforts is seen in the field of development of national civil aviation, for example, through the re-establishment of the High council for civil aviation (Conseil supérieur de l’aviation civile—CSAC) announced by the Minister of transport during the closing speech of the Air transport conference last March.(2)
Nevertheless no dedicated body exists for handling the totality of matters concerning the air sector, whether those arising from safety and security, development of French aeronautical structures, promotion of industry or ecological transition. Such a high-level body could contribute to strengthening national strategy for the air sector. It would usefully complement the work of the Council for aeronautical research (Conseil pour la recherche aéronautique—CORAC), which is already helping development of the aeronautical industry with regard to the commitments made by France to ecological transition.
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The continuing development of the air sector should encourage us to continue this line of thought. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts a doubling in the volume of passengers carried in the world over the next 20 years. In Europe this growth will lead to fundamental adaptation of the rules governing air traffic circulation through the Single European Sky initiative. The drone and space markets are in full growth with regard to the services they will be able to offer in the near future: wider use of high performance pilotless aircraft with greater endurance and payload, and the multiplication of state and private players going into space should incite France—a pioneer nation in aeronautics—to improve relationships between national players in order to respond to the challenges to come and to guarantee the success of its activity in the air. ♦
(1) A peculiarity of the GTA is that it comes under the DGAC for its employment.
(2) Élisabeth Borne (Minister of transport), Conclusion des Assises nationales du transport aérien – Présentation de la stratégie nationale du transport aérien, Paris, 8 March 2019 (www.ecologique-solidaire.gouv.fr/).