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Plane strays into White House airspace

From Patty Davis and Kathleen Koch

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Frontier Airlines jet flew into restricted airspace near the White House as it took off Monday evening from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Frontier Flight 819, a Boeing 737-300, took off to the north from the Reagan airport and -- instead of turning to the left as required -- continued straight and into restricted airspace, said FAA spokesman Bill Shumann.

The jet was just inside restricted airspace, he said, within two miles of the White House.

Shumann said the FAA will investigate and considers the matter a case of possible "pilot deviation," which the agency defines as "an action of a pilot that violates any federal aviation regulation."

The spokesman said there could be disciplinary action against the pilot in the form of a reprimand or license revocation.

Frontier Airlines is a low-cost airline based in Denver, Colorado.

According to the FAA, this marks the fourth time since September 11 that a commercial aircraft has flown into prohibited airspace over Washington:

  • On December 22, a commercial aircraft strayed into the restricted airspace.
  • On January 4, an American Airlines flight taking off from Reagan National made an error similar to that of the Frontier aircraft, continuing straight instead of turning.
  • On March 8, a U.S. Airways aircraft landing at Reagan National Airport didn't comply promptly with instructions from air traffic controllers and entered the off-limits airspace at 9,000 feet.
  • On March 21, a Medivac helicopter departing Children's Hospital flew for unknown reasons through the northern edge of prohibited airspace.
  • The agency said in January that pilots -- 95 percent of them in small planes -- have flown into restricted or prohibited airspace at least 270 times since the terror attacks.

    The incidents include 10 times when pilots flew over President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch and 45 times when pilots flew close to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

    Other planes flew too close to cities, outdoor sporting events and nuclear power plants, the FAA said.

    Violations of the prohibited airspace over Washington were a headache for aviation safety officials even before the terrorist attacks.

    There were 13 violations in 1996, 27 in 1997, 43 in 1998, 16 in 1999, 25 in 2000 and 26 in the first three quarters of 2001.

    The number of incursions dropped in 1999 after the FAA launched an education campaign and issued new warnings to pilots.

    In recent years, roughly one-quarter of those flying into the off-limits airspace over Washington were commercial air carriers. The remainder of violators were small, general aviation aircraft.


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