A close call in the sky

WASHINGTON

For the past couple of weeks we have heard a lot about air traffic controller mistakes so this isn't the first and it involves the first lady, raising more concerns about who is guiding planes in the air.

First Lady Michelle Obama spent Monday in New York, making appearances including one on ABC's "The View," but the part of the trip that would most make news was the part no one expected.

The first lady's Boeing 737 was on its way back to Washington, when air traffic controllers at an approach facility near Washington D.C. apparently made a mistake. Mrs. Obama's plane got within three miles of a giant C-17 military cargo plane. The required separation is five miles.

Giant planes can create turbulence. Military controllers at Andrews Air Force Base asked the First Lady's pilot to execute "s turns" to slow the approach. Even after the cargo plane landed they worried it wouldn't clear the runway fast enough. So they ordered the first lady's plane to circle before it landed safely.

It's another headline in what's become a continuing air safety story. This year at least seven air traffic controllers have been found to be sleeping on the job. This week an air traffic controller in Cleveland was suspended for watching a movie on duty.

"You would think with the number of controller errors that we've seen in the last few weeks and months that controllers would be much more in tune with not making mistakes and they would be much more up on their game," said former Marine fighter pilot Steve Ganyard.

A government source says nobody on the First Lady's plane was aware of any delay. The F.A.A. says neither of two planes was ever in any danger.

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