The Federal Aviation Administration violated its own rules by taking more than 40 minutes to alert the military after losing communication with a Northwest Airlines flight last week, according to officials familiar with internal reviews under way at several federal agencies.
The delay has sparked consternation within the military, concern within the FAA and special oversight by the White House, these officials said, particularly because such time lags were supposed to be eliminated as a result of the lessons learned from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the event of a hijacking, the military would order fighters into the air to intercept an aircraft and possibly shoot it down.
In an interview, the man charged with protecting the skies above North America, U.S. Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., said he was displeased with the way the situation evolved, stressing that notification should have been quicker and those involved should have been more agile in their response.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal Wednesday evening, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said air-traffic controllers "should have notified [the military] more quickly that the plane was not responding." Local controllers apparently became so focused on trying to re-establish contact that they failed to alert higher-level FAA managers about the problem in a timely manner.
"We are conducting an internal review," Babbitt said, "and will require retraining on proper notification procedures when we lose radio contact with aircraft."