Federal Aviation Administration chief Allan McArtor, who has lectured pilots about making too many mistakes, got a chance to do some first-hand research into the problem last week.
The pilot of the FAA's plane, a Lockheed Jetstar, deviated from his assigned altitude while carrying McArtor and two FAA attorneys to Memphis Friday.
FAA officials breathed a sigh of relief when they learned McArtor, a pilot, was not flying. But agency officials were still embarrassed by the incident since McArtor has focused so intently on pilot errors.
Bob Buckhorn, an FAA spokesman, said he does not know the pilot's name, but explained that the pilot apparently misunderstood an air traffic controller's instructions while the plane was descending to land and continued his descent until the controller intervened. No other planes were in the area and the Jetstar landed without mishap.
"This incident will be investigated the way any other incident is," Buckhorn said.
The Jetstar apparently was ordered to desend from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet, but the pilot continued downward to 5,000 feet until the controller intervened. The pilot thought he had been cleared to 4,000 feet, Buckhorn said.
McArtor traveled to Memphis to see about organizing another meeting with chief pilots of commercial airlines.