WASHINGTON – A military plane carrying Vice President Dick Cheney (search) came within almost half a mile of a small private plane over Bridgeport, Conn., this month, forcing the pilot to take evasive action, the Federal Aviation Administration (search) said Friday.
The plane, which is Air Force II (search) when the vice president is aboard, was flying at about 7,500 feet Aug. 7 while en route to Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., when an on-board alert system alarmed, telling the pilot to climb to avoid colliding with the other plane.
The FAA said such an event ordinarily wouldn't require an investigation, but a report was written and sent to the Air Force because it involved the vice president.
FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said that both planes were operating under visual flight rules. That means pilots should avoid another flight if they see it, which is what the Air Force pilot did, she said.
"The Air Force II pilot was given a traffic advisory saying where the general aviation aircraft was," Salac said. "Controllers were tracking the aircraft on their radar scopes."
Dean Iacopelli, president of the New York air traffic controller's union, blamed inadequate staffing for the problem, which he said happens about once a week in New York.
Iacopelli, a controller, said a supervisor was working the radar scopes while on overtime to augment the staff. Supervisors are required to work aircraft for only eight hours a month, while controllers work 40.
"He's not as proficient on it as someone who does it everyday," Iacopelli said. "We need more air traffic controllers."
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has been campaigning for the FAA to hire more controllers as a wave of retirements is expected to hit the agency in the next few years.
Salac said the FAA makes no connection between staffing levels at the New York air traffic control center and the event.