Air traffic controllers directed a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama to abort a landing at Andrews Air Force Base because it was too close to a military cargo jet, officials said Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident as a possible error by controllers at a regional radar facility in Warrenton, Va. The facility handles approaches and departures for several airports, including Andrews, where the president's aircraft, Air Force One, is maintained.
The C-17 and Mrs. Obama's plane didn't have the proper separation when controllers in Warrenton handed them off to the Andrews controllers, a source familiar with the incident told the Associated Press.
FAA officials have had to suspend nine air traffic controllers and supervisors around the country in recent weeks, including five for sleeping on the job. Amid these incidents, officials have continued to try to calm the public's jitters about flying.
The latest incident occurred at about 5 p.m. on Monday when a Boeing 737 belonging to the Air National Guard, one of several guard planes used by the White House, came within about three miles of a massive C-17. The near miss occurred as the planes were approaching Andrews to land, according to the FAA and Maj. Michelle Lai, a spokeswoman for Andrews.
The required FAA separation is five miles between two planes when the plane in the lead is as large as the 200-ton cargo jet, in order to avoid dangerous wake turbulence that can severely affect the trailing aircraft.
Air traffic controllers at Andrews Air Force Base ordered Mrs. Obama's plane to abort its landing. The plane had to circle the airport to give the larger plane time to clear the runway.
"The aircraft were never in any danger," the FAA said in a statement.
Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, also was on the plane with Mrs. Obama. The first lady and Mrs. Biden had been in New York earlier in the day for a joint TV interview.
Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation of Alexandria, Va., said the kind of spacing error that occurred in the handling of Mrs. Obama's plane happens every day.
"It was more an embarrassment than a danger," said Voss, a former controller.