SANTA ANA, CALIF., OCT. 24 -- A pilot flying the head of the Federal Aviation Administration to Las Vegas has been cited for climbing 500 feet above his assigned altitude, forcing an airliner to change course, officials said.

The pilot's name was withheld pending an FAA investigation, which is expected to take several weeks, spokesman Bob Buckhorn said. His pilot's license could be suspended for up to 60 days if the complaint is upheld.

The pilot was leaving Long Beach Airport on Oct. 8 when he was cited for a "pilot deviation" after flying to 10,500 feet instead of the 10,000 feet assigned by an air traffic controller, FAA officials confirmed.

The officials were quoted in today's Orange County Register.

The jet carried FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor, who has been lecturing around the country on pilot safety and other matters.

The government-owned Lockheed Jetstar dropped to its correct altitude after being advised by a controller at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, FAA spokesman Russell Park said.

An American Airlines jet bound from Los Angeles to San Diego had to change course to avoid the jet, said Anthony Skirlick, president of the controllers' union at the center.

FAA and American Airlines officials said they had not been aware of a diversion, the Register said.