President Barack Obama ordered a review of a publicity-photo shoot with one of the planes that serves as Air Force One that cost taxpayers $328,835 and caused a furor in New York City. Obama said he wasn’t informed in advance of yesterday’s low-altitude flight over New York Harbor, which rattled windows in New York’s financial district and prompted some office workers to flee buildings in fear it was a terrorist attack. “It was a mistake,” Obama said today before a meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington. “It will not happen again.”
The incident continued to reverberate in New York and Washington today with two senators demanding an accounting of how the flight was approved, its cost and procedures aimed at avoiding a repeat.
“The supposed mission represents a fundamentally unsound exercise in military judgment and may have constituted an inappropriate use of Department of Defense resources,” Senator John McCain of Arizona wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
McCain, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, asked Gates to provide a description of the mission, who ultimately approved it and an estimate of how much it cost.
The flight by the VC-25, a modified Boeing Co. 747, and two F-16 fighter jets cost $328,835, Air Force spokeswoman Vicki Stein said.
That includes $300,658 for the larger plane, which flew a three-hour mission, and about $28,178 for the F-16 jets, which flew 1.8 hours each, Stein said in an e-mailed statement.
The total includes fuel used in flight, fuel used to power ground equipment used to prepare the aircraft, and ground maintenance, Stein said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday’s flyover was “two training missions that became in the end a picture mission” and only Air Force personnel were aboard.
Obama has directed Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina to review “how the decision was made to conduct the flight,” Gibbs said at the daily White House briefing.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said in a statement that he asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose department oversee the Federal Aviation Administration, to create an “ironclad procedure” to inform the public about such flights at least 48 hours in advance.
“Somewhere along the line, someone at the FAA should have had the foresight to realize that New Yorkers would see this stunt and think back to 9-11,” Schumer said.
McCain, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, also said that the disruption and panic caused by the flight should have been foreseeable. He wrote that the apology and acceptance of responsibility from Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, “rings hollow.”
Obama today ignored questions from reporters about whether Caldera should keep his job.
Caldera yesterday took responsibility for authorizing a photo shoot involving the specially equipped 747 aircraft and a fighter jet escort that frightened Wall Street workers. The plane flew as low as 1,000 feet (305 meters).
In a statement yesterday evening, Caldera apologized for “any distress” it caused. While federal officials “took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption,” he said.
Caldera, 53, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a lawyer, was secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration and previously was a state legislator in California.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that he was “furious” when he was told about the flight. Obama also was “furious” about the incident and the confusion it caused, Gibbs told reporters.
Gibbs said the White House review of the incident probably wouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks. “And the president will look at that review and take any appropriate steps after that,” Gibbs said.
Paul Browne, deputy New York City police commissioner, said yesterday that the department was told by the FAA not to inform the public about what it thought would be a higher flyover by two F-16s and an Air Force VC-25 aircraft. The VC-25, a military version of the 747, is used as Air Force One when the president flies on it.
The planes flew past the Statue of Liberty and the financial district near the World Trade Center site that was hit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The aircraft were on a “photo mission,” Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, said yesterday.