N.Y. Flyover Results in Resignation
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The White House official who approved the alarming Air Force One flight over New York City last month resigned yesterday following an internal investigation.
In his resignation letter to President Obama, Louis Caldera wrote that the controversy had "made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," which manages Air Force One and other presidential aircraft.
"Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president," he wrote.
Caldera's resignation and the release of the review concludes what has been an embarrassing event for a young administration. Obama aides have said the president was furious when he heard about the April 27 flyover, which involved Air Force One and two F-16 military fighter aircraft in a publicity photo shoot.
The low-flying planes evoked the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for many New Yorkers.
The internal review, supervised by Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff, concluded that "structural and organizational ambiguities exist within" the White House Military Office, particularly in how it advises the administration and the Air Force's Presidential Airlift Group on the way it uses Air Force One. The report said "there are no clear procedures governing the approval process for the use of [Presidential Airlift Group] aircraft, including Air Force One, for operations other than Presidential support."
In a letter made public yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates disclosed that the flyover cost taxpayers as much as $357,000. The letter was made public by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had raised questions about the incident.
Gates said in his letter that the flight included a training component for pilots to practice instrument approaches and landings at Atlantic City International Airport. He said that "with the exception of one combat photographer, a standard crew complement performed the mission. . . . There were no non-duty personnel or passengers on board."
Gates wrote that the flyover had been planned for weeks and coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration liaisons in the region, air traffic control representatives and tower supervisors. The FAA notified the office of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), the U.S. Park Police, the New York Police Department and other local agencies three days before the flight.
But, Gates added, "I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and [Department of Defense] officials."