NEW YORK – The Federal Aviation Administration turned down a U.S. Navy request to fly a patrol aircraft past Manhattan on Monday, two weeks after a nerve-racking Air Force photo shoot over the Statue of Liberty caused a brief panic.
The agency said it refused clearance for the flight down the Hudson River because the Navy had given it only a few hours notice of its plans.
The P-3 Orion reconnaissance plane from the U.S. Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, was to have flown past the city, then head back north, sometime around 10:30 a.m.
FAA officials said the four-engine, turboprop admittedly had a low probability of attracting attention. It was to have flown no lower than 3,000 feet, well above New York's tallest skyscrapers, in an air corridor where planes of a similar size are a common sight.
But after city officials were informed and higher-level FAA officials learned about the request, they declined permission for the flight, saying unannounced military flybys were a bad idea.
Two weeks ago, office workers near the World Trade Center site and across the river in New Jersey ran for cover when a Boeing 747 sometimes used as Air Force One circled the harbor at 1,000 feet with a fighter jet in tow. The photo shoot became a scandal and led to the resignation of the White House official who authorized it.
This time, authorities took no chances.
After the FAA alerted the mayor's office in the morning that the flight would take place, the city sent out a public notification warning that a military plane would be in the air.
Shortly thereafter, the FAA told the Navy the mission was off.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city did not ask for the flight to be canceled.
"We did get on the phone with them and said we'd prefer to have had a little more time to notify everybody," he said.
Bloomberg said it was his understanding that the flight was for "some Navy guy who was retiring after many years of service, and they wanted him to take one last flyby."
A Navy spokeswoman, Cmdr. Pauline Storum, said at least 25 such P-3 flights have been flown through New York City's airspace since 2001.
"This was a routine training event," she said, adding that it was not related to anyone retiring.
The details of when the FAA learned about the flight were in dispute.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the air station had gotten in contact with the agency about the planned flight previously, but hadn't been specific about when it would occur until just hours before the flight Monday.
Storum said the air station informed the FAA a week ago, and was unaware there might be any problem until the crew called Monday morning to confirm the flight plan.
Navy P-3 crews perform most of their missions over the ocean, but occasionally practice flying above cities so they can get experience working with FAA air traffic controllers, she said.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, whose city lies across the Hudson from Manhattan, said it was right to cancel the flight.
"This was a mistake that would have repeated the whole stupid and alarming process that occurred two weeks ago," he said, referring to the April 27 Boeing flyover near the Statue of Liberty.