3:20 p.m. Update: The Federal Aviation Administration will require air traffic control supervisors to monitor flights carrying the first lady and vice president in the Washington area, according to an agency statement.
“In the past we have required a supervisor to monitor movements of POTUS at both ADW and PCT for landings and takeoffs and movements through DC area airspace, as well as wherever he's flying in the country,” the statement said.
“As of today, we are making the same supervisor oversight requirement for VPOTUS and FLOTUS flights in the DC area and at their destinations where possible.”
Original post: The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an official investigation into the incident on Monday where a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden had to abandon its initial landing attempt at Andrews Air Force Base because it was too close to a military cargo jet.
The FAA said Monday that “the aircraft were never in any danger.”
Because an airplane’s wake causes severe turbulence, the FAA has strict standards on how much distance controllers should maintain between planes.
The FAA controllers in the tower at Andrews recognized that the massive C-17 and the Obama flight were far too close when the controller at a facility in Warrenton handed off responsibility for the two aircraft. When the handoff occurred, the planes were 3.08 miles apart, radar shows. The required separation was five miles.
The Andrews controllers ordered the Obama plane to execute a series of S-turns in an effort to create a safe distance. However, the Andrews controllers realized the cargo jet would not have time to get off the runway before the presidential plane arrived and ordered the Obama plane to circle the base, a routine maneuver known as a “go-around.”
Biden and Obama were returning from New York on Monday after making a television appearance and taping other shows.
The NTSB began investigating mistakes by air traffic controllers last year after error rates spiked and has been examining a recent incident where a controller at Reagan National Airport fell asleep while on duty. An FAA investigation into the Andrews incident, already underway, is expected to be complete next week.
The FAA recently instituted scheduling changes for air traffic controllers, responding to several recent incidents where personnel have been suspended for sleeping while on duty — and in one case allegedly watching a movie.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and Paul Rinaldi, head of the air traffic controllers union, began a tour of facilities this week to discuss the changes and to emphasize professional standards of conduct.
Nationwide, recorded errors by controllers increased 51 percent last year to 1,869.