US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today said that two air traffic controllers have been fired following investigation into an incident in which First Lady Michelle Obama's plane had to abort landing as it was flying too close to a military aircraft.
"We have fired two controllers after completing two investigations," LaHood told PBS News Hour in an interview. "We're also changing procedures having to do with the vice president and first lady's plane when they're flying in and out of Washington airspace," he said.
Earlier in the day, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that it has opened an investigation into an air traffic control incident on Monday in which the airplane carrying First Lady aborted a landing attempt at Andrews Air Force Base after an air traffic controller had sequenced it too close to another military plane.
"At about 5 pm on April 18, the military version of a B-737 that Mrs Obama was traveling in was directed to abort its landing attempt after the required minimum separation between it and a C-17 military aircraft that was landing ahead of it was compromised," it said.
The incident involved Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers at the Potomac TRACON facility in Virginia and at the Andrews tower in Maryland. "It's my understanding that there was no imminent danger for the First Lady or Dr Biden or anybody else on the plane," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
LaHood said the First Lady's plane was too close to the cargo plane, and that was disclosed. "The controller that was in-charge made sure that her plane made the corrective moves that were necessary in order to alleviate any kind of that backup wind that the consultant was talking about," he said.
"I would say that flying is safe, but we need to do more, and we are doing more, and we will continue to do more until we make sure that controllers take personal responsibility for the most important safety jobs they have. We're doing a top-to-bottom review of procedures, workplace procedures, and other things," the Transport Secretary said.
LaHood said one of the air traffic controller fires as in Tennessee, where he actually made a bed in the control tower, brought a pillow, brought blankets. "He has been fired. We're not going to sit by and let that kind of behavior take place in control towers," he said. The other controller was from Miami, Florida, where he had guided a 737 Southwest flight to take a look at a small plane that was out of radio contact to see if something was going on.
"Completely violates procedures. You can't guide a big plane over to look at a small plane. That's not the way that's done," he said.