Air Force One Photo Op: What Was FAA's Role?

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An FAA memo (PDF) floating around the Internet Wednesday suggests that if the FAA didn't originate the secrecy surrounding Monday's White House photo op over New York, it certainly went along with it. The memo—authored by James J. Johnston of the agency's security operations branch—clearly indicates the FAA was notified well ahead of the planned flyover and that it recognized the kind of reaction it might cause. The memo begins by saying: "The information in this document is considered FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY, and should only be shared with persons with a need to know. Information in this document shall not be released to the public or media." The document then details the flight planning and the schedule, including the intent to fly around as low as 1000 feet in the Hudson River Corridor in the vicinity of the Statute of Liberty. The flyover occurred on Monday morning and raised a considerable ruckus in lower Manhattan and mid-town, as hundreds of workers panicked and evacuated buildings in the city, fearful of another 9/11-type terrorist attack. Also circulating the news sites are recordings of hysterical calls to New York's emergency services numbers. The FAA did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment and, interestingly, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association told AVweb that it was declining comment because it didn't normally comment on security issues.

The memo popped up on Wednesday, posted on a blog about operations in the Washington TRACON. According to the memo, besides forbidding others to release information on the flight, the FAA planned to take no action at all to notify the public. "The Public Affairs posture for this effort is passive. No media or press releases are planned. Please direct all media inquiries to the FAA Air Traffic Security Coordinator at (202) 493-5107. Due to the possibility of public concern regarding DOD aircraft flying at low levels, coordination with Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies, emergency operations centers and aviation units has been accomplished."

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Paul Bertorelli speculates on the thought process (or lack thereof) behind this stunt on the AVweb Insider blog.