In an ideal world, the Federal Aviation Administration would be like that old axiom about children: It should be seen and not heard.
The agency broke that rule in a major way this week when a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama and second lady — is that a thing? — Jill Biden was forced to abort its landing at Andrews Air Force Base after an air traffic controller let it get too close to the wake of a massive military cargo plane.
While neither plane was ever in serious danger, the episode was the latest black mark on an agency that has struggled through several high-profile incidents of controllers sleeping on the job. In the past month alone, nine controllers have been suspended as investigations proceed over whether they were asleep on the job.
Two of the controllers — one of whom brought a pillow and blanket to the control tower — were removed, and Henry Krakowski, the head of air traffic controllers for the FAA, resigned.
In the wake of those incidents, FAA chief Randy Babbitt sought to stop the political bleeding for his organization — issuing a statement condemning “unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety.” Added Babbitt: “I am committed to maintaining the highest level of public confidence and that begins with strong leadership.”
That statement came just four days before the too-close-for-comfort incident with the first lady. Not good.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Reuters that he supports Babbitt “1,000 percent,” a vote of confidence that could come back to haunt him if more in-air problems come to light.
Randy Babbitt, for making headlines rather than keeping the FAA out of them, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
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