First Draft: Air Force One’s Big Apple photo op

April 28, 2009

USA-POLITICS/No matter what kind of day you’re having, it’s probably not as bad as the one Louis Caldera had yesterday. Caldera is director of the White House Military Office, and he approved what might well be one of the most criticized photo op choices of all time: a low-level flyover of Manhattan by a plane often used to transport the president as Air Force One.

Caldera said federal authorities informed the appropriate officials in New York and New Jersey beforehand, but many New Yorkers were instantly reminded of the 911 attacks when they saw the blue and white passenger plane flying by their skyline, trailed by an F-16 fighter jet carrying a photographer. The idea was to get a picture of Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg excoriated the plan, and Caldera reportedly got a dressing down from a “furious” President Barack Obama. Caldera apologized profusely, saying federal authorities took “the proper steps” but “it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption.”

That didn’t begin to satisfy many in the media, especially those based in New York City. ABC television’s normally avuncular Charles Gibson added a sarcastic “You think?” after he reported Caldera’s apology. On morning television, the headlines were openly hostile. From CNN, it was “Air Force Dumb.” On Fox, the line was that the flight “Sparks 911 Flashback.” The New York Times ran a picture of the plane on its front page with the restrained caption, “A jet regularly used as Air Force One flew low over Jersey City, above, and Manhattan on Monday, scaring many.”

Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart called it “Mistakes on a Plane,” a riff on the 2006 movie “Snakes on a Plane.” 

It’s not like there’s nothing else to worry about: swine flu, health care and climate change, to name three being discussed in Washington today. So you tell us: is the widespread criticism of the AF1 photo op a continuing story or a one-day drama?

Click here for more Reuters political coverage.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young (Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington after a day trip to New York, November 11, 2008)


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Flight operating costs are over $50,000 per hour for Air Force one and for each F-16. That’s about a two hour mission, or a $300,000 photograph. A graphic artist could easilly have created a picture for about $100. It appears to me that they are not being truthful about why they flew the airplanes over Manhattan yesterday.

Posted by Ken Albert | Report as abusive

Mind-boggling decisions especially when thrift should be the over-riding policy! It is difficult to fathom. A low-level flyover could have been excellent shooting practice for trigger-happy terrorists. Mistakes like this should never have been allowed to happen.

Posted by Pancha Chandra | Report as abusive

I think it is time for the people of New York to grow up
and move on. Airplanes fly over cities all the time but only in New York do people panic. 9/11 was 8 years ago.
Remember it and those lost that day then move on with life.

Posted by Richard Hughes | Report as abusive

Mr. Albert’s comment is correct about the cost of the photo op, but most folks do not realize that these costs are sunk cost in that the planes, people, parts, gas, etc are already paid for and are required by military regulations to fly a minimum number of hours each month. They can either fly up and down the East Coast at 50,000 ft doing nothing or they can do a photo op…the cost is the same. Unfortuantely, those planning this at all levels saw it as just another flying event and failed to put it into context.

Posted by Greg Morgan | Report as abusive

Caldera’s people thinks telling the NYC Mayor’s office that an escorted Air Force One accompanied by some F16 will fly over the Statue of Liberty for a photo-op” covers them? The FAA OKd it??? The president is served by bufoons.

Posted by Bob Walton | Report as abusive

Richard Hughes has obviously never been to NYC b/c he sounds like a complete moron. Airplanes don’t fly over Manhattan often at all, b/c of it’s skyscrappers, it’s the reason why all three of NYC’s airports are at least a 20 minute drive outside of the City, and why all runways on those airports lead the plane away from the City so that the aircraft can gain height before flying over it. Not to mention that the Statue of Liberty is about a quarter of the height of what the World Trade Center was, so in order to get that low, you’d probably be in a position where you could fly into half the buildings of downtown Manhattan. Show a little sensitivity for the largest loss of civilizan life in US History.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

@ Hughes – horribly insensitive. You are talking about some of the same people who lived through 9/11 – the most traumatic experience in US history. Planes do often fly around NYC but not at 150 ft, trailed by fighter jets. This, even by NYC standards is terrifying. Insensitive of Reuters as well. Caldera didn’t have as bad a day as the 1,000s who feared for their lives. This isn’t a laughable episode but once more shows the carelessness and foolishness of the federal govt.

Posted by DMK | Report as abusive

I gotta admit this was a stupid idea. I can’t blame New Yorkers for being in a panic by a jumbo jet flying at 1500 feet up Long Island Sound.

But I really have to ask, where were the flying monkeys and their faux outrage when George Bush flew AF1 from Washington to Crawford, just to vote in the 2006 primary, when he could have mailed in an absentee ballot? That’s .42c versus $150,000. Anyone?

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

yeah, picture taking, my eye…. notice how it happened right before the swine flu outbreak ….

they need those big planes to carry the large amounts of virus material around the city….

Posted by j | Report as abusive

getplaning. You should grow up. All presidents fly to their home state to vote. It doesn’t scare the public when a president goes to his home state. So the only flying monkey is you. But I don’t expect much from you, you always bring up George Bush to any argument. It is a stretch to bring it up now, but mixing apples and oranges to this incident.

The incident over NY was just plain stupid and you are right to say so because this isn’t something that has anything to do with a political party. I applaud you for having a bit of rational thought on this.

As for someone saying New Yorkers need to “grow up and move on”. Well, you are an insensitive sort, aren’t you? Yes, it was 8 years ago, but to the people who lived it, it isn’t so easy to just let it go. Airplanes that low are unusual and they have a right to be scared considering what happened to them. In fact, in any city or community where aircraft fly that low to the ground would have reacted the same way. That’s all the time I am going to waste on your comments. It must be nice to be perfect, huh?

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

Grow up and move on? Tell that to the infant I know who was just born one month before his father and grandfather perished that day. Only his dad’s remains have been recovered. This family still has no closure as do many other families whose loved ones are still missing.
What an insensitive human being you are Richard.

Posted by patbooNYC | Report as abusive