Ohio Air National Guard increases buffer zone after F-16s get too close to commercial jet

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Ohio Air National Guard is increasing the buffer zone between military and commercial air space after two F-16 fighter jets flew near the path of a commuter jet over southwest Ohio in April, a Guard official said Wednesday.

The executive officer of the guard's Toledo-based 180th Fighter Wing said that the military pilots involved in the flight also have been assigned extra training. Safety procedures were re-emphasized to all pilots within the 180th wing, Maj. Gary Bentley said.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported a "near-miss incident" on April 8, when authorities said the two fighter jets came close enough to trigger a cockpit alarm in the Atlantic Southeast Airlines commuter jet.

The 180th said in a news release this week that its investigation found weather was a factor when the lead F-16 pilot unintentionally flew above the maximum altitude of 28,000 feet. Radar showed the F-16s were flying at 30,000 feet, which was where the commercial plane was flying as planned, the FAA had said.

The pilot "lost situational awareness" as he was flying at the ceiling of the authorized military air space while trying to get above rougher air at lower altitudes, the statement said.

A second pilot following his lead also flew above 28,000 feet but informed the lead pilot that they were too high, and both planes descended back into the safety zone, Bentley said.

Bentley says the safety zone between military and other air space has been doubled to 5 nautical miles.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines said in April that the commuter jet remained on its flight path from Cleveland to Atlanta after seeing the F-16s. The commercial flight carrying 58 passengers and four crew members landed safely.