FBI Tried To Shoo Away Banner Plane

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The FBI says it's perfectly normal for agents to call air traffic control towers and ask that aircraft be diverted for safety reasons. Whether or not they're towing banners over a major golf tournament mocking its marquee player is irrelevant, the Bureau claims. It was confirmed on Friday that the FBI agent made the call as a Cessna pulling a banner that read "Tiger: Are You My Daddy?" flew legally over the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Calif., June 20. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the Monterey County Herald the agent asked tower personnel to order the aircraft away from the event. "We said there were no flight restrictions in place so the pilot was free to fly near or over the course provided he abided by the applicable Federal Aviation Regulations," Gregor said. FBI spokesman Joseph Schadler told the newspaper the call was made out of concern for the safety of the thousands of people crowding the course for the tournament in case the airplane (which was either over the water at 500 feet and above or at 1,000 feet above the course) had to make an emergency landing on the course. "In all seriousness, we don't care about what might be on the banner," he said. "Our concern is the safety of the people on the ground."

Gregor said the tower did pass along the FBI's interest in the flight to the pilot but only to let him know about the agent's concerns. "We did not tell the pilot that he had to leave the area," he said. The banner was being flown by National Sky Ads, of Long Island, N.Y., and was one of two that was to have been shown to the crowd. Company owner Dave de Reeder wouldn't say what was on the other one (although it seems likely we'll find out at a future tourney). De Reeder also wouldn't say who'd hired the company. At the Masters in Augusta in April, the FAA temporarily grounded a Tiger-taunting banner plane after a ramp inspection done at the request of a local airport official. FAA inspectors found several missing cowl screws and loose fasteners and a faded seatbelt tag on that aircraft, which was owned by a banner company from Ohio. It was allowed to be flown to Ohio for repairs.