A controller supervisor stepped in, ordering that the inbound plane, a SkyWest Airlines Canadair jet with 29 people aboard, abort its landing to avoid an ExpressJet Airlines Embraer ERJ-145, with 53 aboard, that was rolling down a runway toward takeoff.
“Oh, [expletive],” said the controller who had ordered the ExpressJet to take off, according to a recording of the tower traffic.
“What the [expletive] was that?” the ExpressJet’s pilot shouted as he saw the SkyWest plane. “What was that?”
“Sorry,” replied the controller, who had been certified for the job in the O’Hare tower just two weeks earlier, federal officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Sasha J. Johnson said the FAA “will review the event to see if any additional training or procedural changes might be necessary.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that it was investigating.
Traffic in and out of O’Hare, one of the nation’s busiest airports, had been halted briefly — which is routine for planes carrying the president or vice president — and air traffic controllers were working to get operations back on track .
Biden and his wife, Jill, were en route to the inauguration of former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as Chicago’s mayor.
A helicopter that would trail the Bidens’ motorcade was hovering at the far end of one runway, and its pilot was in contact with the air traffic controller handling the SkyWest plane.
The SkyWest plane and the ExpressJet were not operating on the same runway. The SkyWest plane had been cleared to land on a runway that is at an angle to the runway from which the ExpressJet was taking off. It had to skim just over that runway before touching down.
On April 18, Jill Biden and first lady Michelle Obama were aboard an airplane that had to abandon its approach to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland because it was following too close to a C-17 military cargo jet.
An air traffic controller allowed the Obama plane to get two miles closer than FAA rules allow to the potentially dangerous turbulence caused by the C-17, which was landing just ahead.
An FAA report said air traffic control managers “were involved in other duties and were not aware of the event as it was happening.”
As a result of that report, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt issued a directive that the same care be taken with planes carrying the vice president and first lady that is taken with aircraft carrying the president. In all cases, a supervisor is required to oversee the work of controllers handling the aircraft.