WASHINGTON - The White House official who approved the Air Force One flight over New York City last month that frightened many and prompted building evacuations resigned today after an internal White House investigation found flaws in how the decision was made and passed on to other agencies.
In his resignation letter to President Obama, Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, wrote that the controversy had "made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," which oversees Air Force One and other presidential aircraft.
"Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president," he wrote.
Caldera's resignation and the release of the internal review essentially concludes what has been an aggravating and embarrassing event for a young administration that prides itself on competence. It came on a day when Sen. John McCain released a letter he received from Defense Secretary Robert Gates in response to the Arizona Republican's questions about the incident.
The letter disclosed that the flyover's cost taxpayers could be as much as $357,000. Gates said in the letter that "we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission."
He wrote that the April 27 flyover, which involved two F-16 aircraft escorting Air Force One low over New York City, had been planned for weeks and coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration liaisons in the region, air traffic control representatives, and tower supervisors. The FAA notified New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, the U.S. Park Police, the New York Police Department and other local agencies three days before the flight, Gates wrote in the letter.
But, he added, "I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and [Department of Defense] officials." The Air Force oversees the Presidential Airlift Group, which includes Air Force One and other presidential aircraft.
The final report on the late April incident came on the same day the Interior Department announced plans to reopen the Statue of Liberty's crown to visitors for the first time since before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Air Force jets appeared to use the statue as a backdrop during the flyover.
The flight was conducted to take publicity photos of Air Force One, flying low over Manhattan's skyscrapers, for promotional material. Gates said in his letter that the flight also included a training component for pilots to practice instruments approaches and landings at Atlantic City Airport. He said that "with the exception of one combat photographer, a standard crew complement performed the mission...There were no non-duty personnel or passengers on board."
Obama aides have the said the president was furious when he heard about the flight, which for many New Yorkers evoked the events of Sept. 11, 2001.