WASHINGTON — New rules are going into effect for how air traffic controllers handle flights when the first lady or the vice president are on board following an aborted landing of a plane carrying Michelle Obama this week.
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It was also announced Wednesday that two air traffic controllers had been fired for sleeping on the job.
Flights carrying Mrs. Obama or Vice President Joe Biden will be handled by an air traffic supervisor rather than a controller, the FAA said.
The new rules apply to approaches and departures handled by a regional air traffic facility in Warrenton, Va., and takeoffs and landings at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where the presidential fleet is based.
Flights with the president on board are already required to be handled by a supervisor.
FAA officials have been struggling to calm public jitters about flying raised by nine suspensions of air traffic controllers and supervisors around the country in recent weeks, including five for sleeping on the job.Video: Biden, first lady to get presidential treatment (on this page)
Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood announced on PBS' "The News Hour" that two air traffic controllers in Miami and Knoxville, Tenn., were fired for sleeping on the job.
The FAA has said the controller in Miami was found sleeping around 5 a.m. Saturday at a regional radar facility that handles high altitude air traffic for portions of Florida, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
A preliminary review of air traffic tapes indicated he did not miss any calls from aircraft and there was no impact on flight operations.
The Knoxville incident occurred on Feb. 19 at a radar facility at the McGhee Tyson Airport. Officials said the controller deliberately slept for about five hours despite attempts by a co-worker to wake him.
The first disclosed case of a controller falling asleep on duty occurred March 23 at Washington's Reagan National airport.
The most recent suspension was this week when a controller at a regional radar facility near Cleveland, Ohio, was suspended for watching a movie on a DVD player when he was supposed to have been monitoring air traffic. The FAA official in charge of the U.S. air traffic system resigned last week.
Earlier, the National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the aborted landing of the first lady's flight.
While such landings are not unusual, and Mrs. Obama apparently was not in serious danger, the episode has become another embarrassment for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The incident involving the first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, occurred at about 5 p.m. on Monday when a Boeing 737 belonging to the Air National Guard, one of several guard planes used by the White House, came within about three miles of a massive C-17 cargo plane as the planes were approaching Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to land, according to the FAA and Maj. Michelle Lai, a spokeswoman for Andrews.
The FAA requires a minimum separation of five miles between two planes when the plane in the lead is as large as the 200-ton military cargo jet, in order to avoid dangerous wake turbulence that can severely affect the trailing aircraft.
Andrews' civilian air traffic controllers initially ordered Mrs. Obama's plane to conduct a series of turns to bring it farther from the military jet. When that did not provide enough distance, controllers realized that there might not be enough time for the cargo plane to clear the Andrews runway before Mrs. Obama's plane landed.
Controllers then directed the pilot of Mrs. Obama's plane to execute a "go-around" — to stop descending and start climbing — and circle the airport, located in a Maryland suburb of Washington. A go-around is considered a type of aborted landing.
The required separation between the two planes "was compromised," the NTSB said in a statement on Wednesday.
The White House continued to refer questions about the incident to the FAA, although press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One with the president that he understood there was "no imminent danger for the first lady or Dr. Biden or anyone else on the plane." Carney said he had not spoken with the president about the incident.
The FAA also is investigating the incident as a possible error by controllers at a regional radar facility in Warrenton, Virginia, that handles approaches and departures for several airports, including Andrews, where the president's aircraft, Air Force One, is maintained.
The C-17 and Mrs. Obama's plane did not have the proper separation when controllers in Warrenton handed them off to the Andrews controllers, a source familiar with the incident said.
The women had been in New York earlier on Monday for a joint television appearance.
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