Michelle Obama’s plane forced to abort landing to avoid cargo jet


 

Presidential plane: Michelle Obama leaves her White House jet, which had to abort its landing after an error by an air traffic controller (file photo)

Presidential plane: Michelle Obama leaves her White House jet, which had to abort its landing after an error by an air traffic controller (file photo)

A jet carrying first lady Michelle Obama came too close to a military transport plane and was ordered to abort its landing at a military base near here, the government said Tuesday.

The first lady was returning Monday evening from an appearance in New York with Vice President Biden’s wife, Jill, when the Boeing 737 jet they were in came within about 3 miles of a Boeing C-17 that was ahead and also lining up to land at Andrews Air Force Base. Because the C-17’s wings produce severe turbulence, other aircraft are usually required to stay at least 5 miles away.

Michelle Obama’s plane forced to abort landing to avoid cargo jet after ‘air traffic controller’s mistake’

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed that the two aircraft were closer than its rules allow and said it had opened an investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, is also examining the incident but has not decided whether to open a formal investigation, spokesman Peter Knudson said.

Air traffic blunder: Michelle Obama pictured leaving New York shortly before her journey back to Washington

“The aircraft were never in any danger,” the FAA said in a news release.

The incident came after a month of bad publicity for the nation’s air-traffic system prompted by several reports of controllers nodding off at work. Seven controllers in six separate cases have either admitted falling asleep or were unresponsive.

The first lady’s jet was nearing Andrews, the military air base just outside Washington, D.C., used by the president and his family, and a controller at a regional air-traffic facility in Virginia directed it to get too close to the military jet.

A second controller at Andrews’ tower saw that the planes were too close and ordered the 737 to climb instead of land, the FAA said.

Huge: A 200-ton C-17 military cargo jet like the one which Michelle Obama's plane only narrowly avoided on Monday

Huge: A 200-ton C-17 military cargo jet like the one which Michelle Obama’s plane only narrowly avoided on Monday

Although the incident was clearly an error by a controller and reduced the margin of safety, it did not appear to have put either aircraft in imminent danger, according to a retired senior controller.

Gary Brittain, who handled aircraft in the busy skies around Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport before retiring, called the incident an “eyes wide open kind of error” in which controllers monitoring the situation had ample time to ensure there was no midair collision.

 

Leading ladies: First lady Michelle Obama and Dr Jill Biden visited Sesame Street on Monday as part of an initiative asking all Americans to support military families

“The kind that scare you are the ones that nobody saw developing,” Brittain said.

In some cases, the rules would have allowed the same two jets to fly that close together, he said. FAA rules allow jets to fly closer together if a pilot can see other aircraft and agrees to take responsibility for staying separated.

 

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