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Federal Aviation Missions

Any federal government agency that owns or hires aircraft should participate in GSA's Interagency Committee for Aviation Policy (ICAP). Eleven federal agencies currently own aircraft, and in addition, some of these and several other agencies hire aircraft (i.e., rent, charter, lease, contract for). These agencies use aircraft to accomplish a wide variety of missions:

Department of Agriculture

Three agencies in Department of Agriculture use aircraft:

  • The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) uses aircraft to support research on airborne entomological radar systems and on delivery systems for aerial application of agricultural materials to control crop pests. ARS aircraft tow insect-collection devices to monitor movement of field crop insects. For remote sensing and aerial insect sampling, ARS aircraft test electronic imaging systems and have high-altitude, high-speed photographic capabilities. ARS acquires aerial images for research studies in agriculture, including rangeland, soils, water quality, and other natural resources.
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) uses its aircraft to support pest control, emergency pest outbreaks, sterile insect dispersal, wildlife management, predator control, and the monitoring of aerial application contractors. APHIS also uses aircraft for research and development. 
  • The Forest Service (FS) uses aircraft to deliver personnel and equipment to remote areas for firefighting. Forest Service firefighters dispense water and chemical fire retardants from the air and use cameras to take aerial photos, video, or infrared imagery. Forest Service aviation also supports law enforcement, surveys, and numerous other activities for the management and protection of nearly 188 million acres of National Forest System lands.

Department of Commerce (DOC)

DOC operates a variety of aircraft through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). All NOAA's aircraft are modified and instrumented to perform extremely diverse missions of atmospheric research, air chemistry, photogrammetry, aeronautical charting, coastal mapping, snow survey, fishery survey, marine mammal research, lidar nautical charting, and logistical support to scientific parties. NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center is located at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003, combines aviation units formerly in other agencies. The following aviation programs operate in DHS:

  • U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) operates a specialized fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to support missions such as search and rescue, law enforcement, marine safety, environmental response, ice operations, aids to navigation, and boating safety. 
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security, (formerly U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Border Patrol) use aircraft chiefly to support law enforcement operations, including investigative support and drug enforcement.

The Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response in DHS (formerly FEMA) may also hire aircraft.

Department of Defense (DoD) (DoD is a consultative member of the ICAP.)

DoD has an aviation force composed of fighter, bomber, attack, and airlift aircraft as well as specialized aircraft. The specialized systems perform a broad range of functions, including aerial refueling, airborne warning and control, electronic combat and air defense suppression, reconnaissance and surveillance for targeting, and special operations. Helicopters are also a part of the military aviation force structure. The diversity and flexibility of these aviation forces reflect in part the differing roles and missions of the Military Services: land-based forces from the U.S. Air Force, carrier-based forces from the U.S. Navy; and expeditionary land and sea-based forces from the U.S. Marine Corps. The U.S. Army has organic helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft to provide air assault, ground attack, and combat support missions.

Department of Energy (DOE)

DOE has a small fleet of aircraft to support transportation of general cargo, sensitive nuclear materials, and other hazardous materials, power line patrol, installation security, multispectral photography, transportation of hazardous materials, and passenger transportation. Most aircraft in DOE's fleet are intensively modified to perform their specialized missions. Additionally, DOE uses special aircraft, primarily unpiloted aerial vehicles, in atmospheric and energy research.

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

DHHS does not own or operate any aircraft. However, the department's Indian Health Service (IHS) charters aircraft, as needed, to transport emergency medical patients and occasionally medical personnel, supplies, and equipment in remote areas of the Western U.S. and Alaska.  In addition, the Centers for Disease Control lease specially equipped aircraft to carry medical and biological materials.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

DOJ operates aircraft to support the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. DOJ uses aircraft in two broad mission areas: 1) law enforcement, including investigative support, and 2) transportation of prisoners and aliens.

Department of the Interior (DOI)

DOI's responsibilities entail management of natural, cultural, and historic resources throughout the United States and U.S. Territories. DOI's eight resource management bureaus (including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) use aviation services to support natural resource missions. Aircraft are required for law enforcement, wildlife management (animal capture and tracking), wild land fire fighting, scientific research, and other uses. Aircraft ensure access to remote areas that are not easily accessible by vehicles, and the aircraft are often used to support high-risk missions, like fire fighting. Commercial aviation companies deliver over 90 percent of DOI's aviation support services, with annual usage fluctuating based on the severity of the fire season. To maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and especially safety, DOI has established a centralized aviation service in the Aviation Management Directorate of the DOI National Business Center, which provides management oversight, administrative support, and technical expertise to the bureaus on aviation matters.

Department of State (DOS)

The Department of State operates helicopters and airplanes in Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Iraq, Guatemala, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan, and other locations as required. Missions of the aircraft vary by program and location, but the aircraft primarily support counter-narcotics, law enforcement, or general Embassy support efforts. Aircraft are primarily operated by contractor and/or foreign host government personnel.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

DOT operates aircraft through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accomplish activities such as flight inspection, training, and research and development. FAA's goal is to ensure that all efforts lead toward a safe, efficient, and effective utilization of the National Airspace System.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

NASA operates a fleet of aircraft for research and development, program support, and mission management. About a quarter of NASA's fleet are highly modified or leading-edge technology airframes designed to explore new aeronautical theories or flight regimes. Over sixty of NASA's aircraft are designated as program support aircraft designed to be platforms for aeronautical research, to carry specific projects, or to train space shuttle crewmembers. The remaining aircraft are used for administrative purposes to transport passengers on official government business in support of NASA's operations.


National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF maintains a small fleet of aircraft to support research and education in the atmospheric and oceanographic sciences and in polar programs. The fleet is currently performing the following missions: 1) long-range observations over remote tropical and oceanic regions critical to studies of the global climate; 2) studies of the kinematic and thermodynamic structure of the troposphere (including boundary layer studies); 3) studies of atmospheric chemistry and aerosols in the troposphere; and 4) cloud physics including penetration of convective clouds.


Federal, Aviation, Missions, Policy