Other Planes That Flew Too Close To The White House
Private Plane Flew Too Close To The White House
Cessna 182 Flew Too Close To The White House
WASHINGTON - Pilots have flown through the prohibited airspace protecting the White House at least 94 times over the past decade, illustrating the challenges of thwarting a terrorist airstrike on the nation's capital.
Even with military jets patrolling the skies, four commercial airliners and a medical helicopter have crossed into Washington's no-fly zone since the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.
An uproar over a jet that flew over the White House this week prompted disclosures that numerous planes have failed to follow procedures when operating near the nation's capital.
New security requirements imposed in the weeks after Sept. 11 require planes flying into Reagan National, located just across the Potomac River from U.S. landmarks, to properly identify themselves to air traffic controllers before landing. If they fail to do so, then they are diverted.
The Frontier Boeing 737 that failed to veer away from restricted air space over the White House immediately after taking off from Reagan National for Denver had earlier in the day been diverted to Dulles when the same crew failed to follow proper identification procedures on its way into Washington.
No fighter jets were sent to escort the plane and it later landed in Denver without incident. The pilot has been grounded with pay.
In most cases, pilots who violated the airspace protecting the White House, vice presidential mansion and Capitol have gotten penalties less severe than a parking ticket, an Associated Press review of FAA enforcement records found.
Just a month before the September hijackings, a Mesa Airlines flight strayed into prohibited airspace. By November, the matter was closed with a warning letter to the pilot — common for most cases.
Security experts say violations of the Washington airspace highlight a key reality in the fight against terrorism — planes that veer into the zone can crash into government installations within seconds.
"Practically speaking, by the time a violation is discovered, it is too late to do anything to prevent a crash into the White House," former FAA security chief Billie H. Vincent said.
FAA Deputy Administrator Monte R. Belger said Thursday the agency recognizes there's little time to react once planes penetrate the safety zone and so the government has imposed numerous other precautions to ensure planes with ill intent don't get close.
"The restricted area is kind of the last line of defense," Belger said. "The additional on-the-ground security procedures and in-flight protocols put in place give us a much higher level of confidence."
Borders have been tightened; pilots, flight crews and passengers are screened to weed out possible terrorists, and planes approaching Washington must complete authentication procedures, including providing passwords.
About three dozen planes approaching Reagan National Airport have been turned away since Sept. 11 because they didn't complete the verification process, officials said.
Planes that violate the prohibited zone are quickly warned by the flight tower to correct course, and the Secret Service is alerted. Nearly all pilots comply immediately, officials said.
Military planes that patrol the capital skies are permitted to force such planes to land or, as a last resort, shoot them down if pilots don't respond.
In an announcement last fall about improved protection of Washington's airspace, the FAA said pilots who infringed the no-fly zone faced "suspension or revocation of their licenses or a fine."
But FAA's enforcement database, obtained by AP under the Freedom of Information Act, shows nearly all the violators since 1992 have gotten just a warning letter.
Of the 111 pilots on the 94 flights, just one was fined, for $1,000, and nine had their licenses suspended for between seven to 120 days.
At least 90 cases were settled by administrative action, mostly warning or correction letters, the records show. Four violating pilots had their penalties reversed later.
One pilot died when he crashed his small plane into the White House in the mid-1990s; no one else was harmed. In 1999, a pilot drifted so close to the White House that agents fired a warning flare. That pilot ended up with a warning letter, FAA records say.
White House national security officials opposed reopening Reagan National after the Sept. 11 hijack attacks, fearing its close proximity to the White House, Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol complex posed a serious security risk.
One of the planes hijacked by terrorists took off from Dulles and was flown into the Pentagon.
But the Bush administration relented to political and public pressure and allowed the airport to reopen almost a month after the attacks. Service has been allowed to resume gradually and Reagan National now operates at 75 percent capacity. That is equivalent to roughly 600 takeoffs and landings each day.
"Air security is certainly something we deal with on a daily basis, both with being in constant communication with tower at Reagan and with the FAA," Secret Service spokesman James Mackin said.
One pilot caught in the airspace blamed air traffic controllers, saying they are so busy they sometimes order flight maneuvers that send pilots into the prohibited zone.
"The D.C. controllers are absolutely horrible. Washington National is absolutely the worst place to fly into, period," said Happy Wells, a 30-year veteran pilot from Oklahoma who was cited in July 1997 for flying his charter plane through Washington's prohibited zone.
Wells said his proposed penalty was rescinded after he filed a report with the FAA.
The air traffic controllers union defended the work of their Washington employees. "Pilots have consistently reinforced the opinion that National has some of the best controllers in the air traffic control system," spokesman Doug Church said.
Operators of Reagan National said the violations aren't necessarily a sign of lax security. Pilots can be knocked off course by something as simple as heavy wind.
FAA says it has settled most cases with warning letters because it believes pilots were operating in good faith at an airport considered one of the toughest to navigate.
Jet Violates White House Airspace
BBC News, April 3, 2002
passenger jet has violated airspace restrictions above the White House,
flying as low as 300 metres (1,000 feet) over the home of the US president.
The plane failed to make a steep turn after take-off and flew almost directly over the White House, where President George W Bush was at the time.
There have always been security precautions for government buildings in Washington, but these were tightened after the 11 September attack on the Pentagon - and fighter jets continue to patrol the skies.
The Frontier Boeing 737 plane took off from Reagan National Airport - just across the Potomac River from the Washington landmarks - at 1815 local time (2345 GMT) heading for Denver, Colorado.
A spokeswoman for the US Federal Aviation Administration said the plane's pilot was contacted by air traffic controllers and acknowledged making an error.
Laura Brown said: "The pilot missed the first turning point.
"He did manage to go through part of the restricted airspace."
She said the plane was monitored by "appropriate security agencies".
A spokeswoman for the Denver-based airline, Tracey Kelly, said the pilots had been grounded by the carrier until federal and company investigations were completed.
"We're working with the FAA and the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] to determine what happened and make sure it does not happen again," Ms Kelly said.
Before the 11 September attacks on the Pentagon and New York, flights departing Reagan National Airport followed the Potomac River, bringing planes close to CIA headquarters, the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon.
House security officials were reluctant to reopen the airport after
the attacks and allowed flights to resume only gradually.
Jet Strays Into Whitehouse Airspace
CNN News, April 2, 2002
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Frontier Airlines jet flew into restricted airspace near the White House as it took off Monday evening from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Frontier Flight 819, a Boeing 737-300, took off to the north from the Reagan airport and -- instead of turning to the left as required -- continued straight and into restricted airspace, said FAA spokesman Bill Shumann.
The jet was just inside restricted airspace, he said, within two miles of the White House.
Shumann said the FAA will investigate and considers the matter a case of possible "pilot deviation," which the agency defines as "an action of a pilot that violates any federal aviation regulation."
The spokesman said there could be disciplinary action against the pilot in the form of a reprimand or license revocation.
Frontier Airlines is a low-cost airline based in Denver, Colorado.
According to the FAA, this marks the fourth time since September 11 that a commercial aircraft has flown into prohibited airspace over Washington:
On December 22, a commercial aircraft strayed into the restricted airspace.
On January 4, an American Airlines flight taking off from Reagan National made an error similar to that of the Frontier aircraft, continuing straight instead of turning.
On March 8, a U.S. Airways aircraft landing at Reagan National Airport didn't comply promptly with instructions from air traffic controllers and entered the off-limits airspace at 9,000 feet.
On March 21, a Medivac helicopter departing Children's Hospital flew for unknown reasons through the northern edge of prohibited airspace.
The agency said in January that pilots -- 95 percent of them in small planes -- have flown into restricted or prohibited airspace at least 270 times since the terror attacks.
The incidents include 10 times when pilots flew over President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch and 45 times when pilots flew close to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.
Other planes flew too close to cities, outdoor sporting events and nuclear power plants, the FAA said.
Violations of the prohibited airspace over Washington were a headache for aviation safety officials even before the terrorist attacks.
There were 13 violations in 1996, 27 in 1997, 43 in 1998, 16 in 1999, 25 in 2000 and 26 in the first three quarters of 2001.
The number of incursions dropped in 1999 after the FAA launched an education campaign and issued new warnings to pilots.
In recent years, roughly one-quarter of those flying into the off-limits airspace over Washington were commercial air carriers. The remainder of violators were small, general aviation aircraft.