May 11, 2009 -- A retiring navy pilot planned to fly over New York City this morning to celebrate the end of his career before the flight was cancelled at the last minute by the Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with city officials as the plane was set to roar down the Hudson, over the harbor and up to Maine.
Before saner heads prevailed, a P-3, a turbo prop aircraft that often sees service as a marine patrol plane for the Navy, was set to fly at 3000 feet.
According to officials, shortly before the flyover was slated to begin at 10:30a.m., the FAA notified the city of the slated flight and of the agency's intent to cancel it.
Unlike the unannounced fly-by of a military 747, which led to the ouster of the head of the White House Office of Military Affairs, city officials seemed satisfied with the FAA's successful efforts to cancel the flight -- which the FAA had alerted them to shortly before it was slated to begin.
According to the FAA flight plan, this plane -- a four engine turbo prop -- was slated to fly at about 3000 feet above the Hudson.
The discussions were made possible through newly opened lines of communication following last month's Air Force One flyover that frightened thousands, for whom the recollection of 9/11 remains fresh.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this time, the system worked as it should.
"You know, if you tell people they made a mistake and work with them, the next time, hopefully, they don't make the mistake," Bloomberg said. "They did not today."
Bloomberg said this time the flight would have been at a higher altitude. He also suggested that while the city wants notice to alert people to these flyovers, it was not opposed to them in principal.
"It was some Navy guy, I gather, who was retiring after many years of service and they wanted one last flyby from up in Maine down and back, and that's fine. That's their issue," Bloomberg said. "We just want to make sure we have the opportunity to notify everyone or make a decision not to, whatever it is. What broke down the last time was...when we were told internally in our administration, we did not share the information the way we should."
Initially, the request went into the FAA at a low level and was set for approval. The city was notified and spoke to its contacts at FAA -- a mechanism that was strengthened after the disastrous photo op. At a higher level, the FAA agreed with the city that the flight was a poor idea and it was cancelled.
The FAA issued a statement, saying: "A Navy unit based in Maine notified an FAA airspace office in New York early this morning that it wanted to fly a P3 military plane at 3,000 feet in altitude over the Hudson River at 10:30 a.m. today. The specialist who handled the request notified the City of New York Mayor's office. When higher-level FAA officials learned about the request, they informed the Navy that the flight was not approved and would not be allowed to fly the requested route."
Before the flight was cancelled, city officials had used the city's reverse phone calling mechanism (a system that allows the city to automatically dial a subscriber's telephone during an emergency to alert them) and sent emails through its "Notify NYC" program to alert residents and business in the affected area. The Notify NYC message was later updated to state "the planned military flyover has been cancelled."
Air Force One Flyover
The Air Force One flyover photo-op that drew angry criticism from eyewitnesses all the way up to President Obama ended up costing Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office, his job. Caldera, who authorized the photo shoot that eyewitnesses said triggered 9/11 flashbacks, resigned Friday afternoon in a letter effective May 22.
"I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group's aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," Caldera said in a letter to President Obama. "Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as President. After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as Director of the White House Military Office."
The White House said President Obama accepted Caldera's resignation and asked Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the structure of the White House Military Office so that "such an incident never occurs again."
Also Friday, the White House released its internal internal review of the fiasco as well as a photo from the flyover involving an Air Force fighter jet and a Boeing 747 which is sometimes used as the president's plane. Earlier, White House officials had said they had planned not to release the photo since news of the incident broke last week.
The report of the incident, which cost over $328,000 in taxpayer dollars and frightened a broad swath of lower Manhattan, site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers, and neighboring New Jersey, says Caldera "did not offer a coherent explanation" for why he didn't alert higher-ups about the Air Force One flyover. "He stated that it was not a conscious decision – he did not decide not to notify them," the report says. "Instead, he suggested that it may have been an oversight."