Suppose that we find that a meteor is headed for, say, Dallas, TX, and it's too late to prevent the impact. The USA has 3 days to evacuate the area before the impact. The impact is one of the size of Tunguska: it will inflict massive damage in an area about the size of London, and we will notice the impact, but it will be mostly localized damage, so there's no global climate change or widespread damage.

Naturally, if you need to evacuate 1.26 million people in 3 days, you want to speed up the evacuation as much as possible, so you want to use all the possible methods of evacuation, be it through air, on water or on the ground, as efficient as possible.

Is there an American Federal authority like FEMA, the TSA or the FAA that has guidelines on how to handle the aviation part of such an emergency evacuation? The example of a meteorite is just that, an example. The meteor itself is not that relevant, what is relevant is how they'd handle the aviation part of the evacuation.

To clarify: I'm specifically talking about the aviation related parts, so anything related to the airspace over the area, how it would affect regional passenger traffic, to what extent local airports and pilots would be involved,... I realize there are other related actions, like evacuations through the highway and route system and through waterways and canals. Those are not what I'm interested in, insofar as they're not related to air traffic and aviation.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think anyone has guidelines for that situation :-) But if someone does it would probably be FEMA, not the FAA. The FAA could provide specific ATC services and TFRs etc. but the overall plan wouldn't be their responsibility, it's just not their area of competence. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Nov 19 '14 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, to be serious I think someone does have those plans but I don't think it's the FAA. The security and luggage issues you mentioned are controlled by the TSA anyway, not the FAA. Right now your question seems off-topic (to me) because it's very broad but if you can make it more specific and clearly related to aviation (as opposed to ground security, for example) then it would be fine. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Nov 19 '14 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, I don't think aviation would play a very big role. Highways would be the primary evacuation route, especially in a localized scenario as suggested here. This need actually arises somewhat frequently with Hurricanes. I've never heard of a significant amount of extra flights going to such areas to evacuate people. On the contrary, getting planes out of harm's way is usually a larger concern. In the case of Katrina, over 1.5 million people evacuated in Louisiana alone. In Rita, 3 million evacuated in Texas. This was almost all by road. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Nov 19 '14 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a sci-fi scenario, and not real-world aviation. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Nov 19 '14 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think I disagree with both close reasons. How about instead of a fictional meteor, let's replace that emergency with this one: what if terrorists take over three airliners and ... $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 20 '14 at 2:30

Given the scenario described, this is highly speculative but I'll have a go anyway.

I assume that FEMA would be responsible for the overall evacuation and indeed their transportation annex says that the FAA's main responsibility in an emergency is limited to airspace management:

DOT/Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the operation and regulation of the U.S. National Airspace System, including during emergencies.

The same document appears to rule out military control of US airspace (my emphasis):

Under certain conditions, DOT/FAA may delegate use of specified airspace for national defense, homeland security, law enforcement, and response (e.g., search and rescue) missions, but retains control of the airspace at all times. DOT/FAA may also implement air traffic and airspace management measures such as temporary flight restrictions in conjunction with these missions.

In practice, the main thing the FAA would do is to set up one or more (possibly very large) Temporary Flight Restrictions to ensure that only emergency and evacuation aircraft could use the airspace around the affected area (see 14 CFR 91.137). In the catastrophic scenario you described, it might be serious enough for the FAA to close the entire national airspace system to non-emergency traffic - as they did on 9/11 - because the refugees would presumably have to be taken all over the US and the evacuation would be a genuinely national crisis.

Apart from that, the FAA could provide extra ATC services by calling in controllers from vacation and/or making them work overtime; they would probably also have to implement some quick procedures to manage the increased air traffic in the area. They could waive or suspend rules on crew working hours, required aircraft maintenance or anything else that would reduce the amount of time that evacuation aircraft could spend in the air. Of course all these things would increase the risks involved in operating the aircraft, but in the face of an unavoidable disaster that would presumably be acceptable. Anyway, I guess no one would prosecute a pilot for flying overtime to save lives in such an extreme situation.

Mobilizing GA aircraft for the evacuation is another possibility (an aviation equivalent of the Dunkirk evacuation) and the FAA could help there by setting up temporary ATC procedures, creating ad hoc control towers at smaller airports and so on.

The FEMA document linked above implies at least some planning has been done with the FAA on disaster response:

DOT/FAA Response Cells: FAA activates specialized response cells to manage and coordinate air navigation services and other aviation-related efforts.

But what FEMA and the FAA would really do in a specific situation is very speculative and has much more to do with disaster response than aviation: the aircraft are just there to move people and things around, and the real challenge is deciding how to use them.


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