WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House plans an inquiry into a
low-flying photo shoot by a presidential plane that panicked New
Yorkers and cost taxpayers $328,835. President Barack Obama said
Tuesday it won't happen again.
But the origins of the government public relations stunt that
went awry remained an engrossing mystery - and a potential
political problem for Obama. The White House military office
approved the photo-op, which cost $35,000 in fuel alone for the
plane and two jet fighter escorts.
"I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree
it was a mistake," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of
Monday's "unfortunate" flight low over the Hudson River that for
many on the ground evoked chilling memories of 9/11.
The sight of the huge passenger jet and an F-16 fighter plane
whizzing past the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan
financial district sent panicked office workers streaming into the
"It was a mistake, as was stated ... and it will not happen
again," Obama said.
White House officials did not say why new photos were needed of
the plane that is sometimes used as Air Force One - Obama wasn't
aboard the flight - or who the presumed audience of the planned
Air Force officials began to provide basic information Tuesday
about the cost of the flights, but did not disclose how long the
public has paid for similar photo op flights.
And public officials from the White House to New York still had
not explained why they acceded to a plan that informed several
dozen officials about the impending flight but kept the public in
"I think we've all learned something from it and now it's time
to make sure our procedures are better and to get on with other
things," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It does seem
like it was a waste of money, but that's up to the federal
Air Force officials said Tuesday the cost of the three-hour trip
from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and back was $328,835 for
the flight of the Boeing VC-25 presidential jet and the two
accompanying F-16 fighters flown by D.C. Air National Guard pilots.
The large jet - a Boeing 747 - carried only military personnel, the
White House said.
Roughly $35,000 of the total flight cost was fuel for the VC-25
and F-16s. Other expenses that are factored into hourly flight
costs include fuel for ground support equipment, spare parts and
other maintenance items needed to keep the aircraft ready. Overall,
the cost per flying hour for the VC-25 is $100,219, according to
the Air Force. The F-16s cost just under $8,000 an hour to operate.
The Air Force said the photo op flight was run as a regular
training mission, so that the costs of the aircraft were considered
training costs and were handled under the operations and
maintenance budget of the 89th Airlift Wing.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that there
would be an inquiry into how the decision was made to make the
flight. He made no move to defend the midlevel White House civilian
who had accepted blame for it on Monday.
"The president will look at that review and take any
appropriate steps after that," Gibbs said. The inquiry would be
led by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, Gibbs said.
White House officials said Obama was fuming mad and thinks Air
Force One didn't need a new publicity photo anyway.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates "did not know in advance about
this flying photo op," Morrell said. "Once he found out, suffice
it to say he was surprised and not very pleased."
The presidential air fleet answers to the White House military
office, whose director, Louis Caldera, issued a mea culpa on
"While federal authorities 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," Caldera's
statement said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any
distress that flight caused."
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and one of the F-16s circled the
Statue of Liberty and the financial district near the World Trade
Center site. Offices emptied. Dispatchers were inundated with
calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.
A White House official has said the New York City mayor's office
and other New York and New Jersey police agencies were told about
the Boeing 747's flight. The official said the FAA, at the
military's request, told local agencies that the information was
classified and asked them not to publicize it.
Bloomberg initially lambasted the government for failing to
notify him, then criticized one of his own aides after learning
that the aide had not relayed notification that the flight was
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said Tuesday he also received no
warning ahead of time that the back-up Air Force One jet and
military fighters would be flying low around the Statute of
Corzine said he had yet to find a New Jersey official who was
told in advance about the Monday morning fly-over.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the
Obama administration should have been more careful about alerting
New Yorkers to the photo-op.
"There should have been better communication," Levin said
Tuesday. "They've expressed their regrets for not having a better
communications line to New York, and I think New York people should
have known about it."
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