* LaHood says supports FAA head "1,000 percent"
* Nine probes of controller incidents, including sleeping
* Jill Biden, VP's wife, also on plane in DC incident
(Adds two firings, paragraph 6)
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, April 20 The Obama administration
has full confidence in the top U.S. aviation safety official
and his agency following a string of highly publicized lapses
by air traffic controllers, including one this week involving a
plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Reuters on the
sidelines of a transportation conference on Wednesday that he
supports Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Randy
Babbitt "1,000 percent."
He also said he saw no need for an independent review of
the FAA's performance beyond the investigations already under
LaHood said the FAA has started nine investigations into
embarrassing disclosures of controllers sleeping on the job and
other safety-related incidents and is working as quickly as
possible to find out what went wrong in each case.
"We are doing a top-to-bottom review," LaHood said. "We
think we're looking into this as thoroughly as we possibly
Two controllers have been fired so far -- one in Knoxville
and one in Miami, transpiration officials said.
Hank Krakowski, the FAA official in charge of day-to-day
operations involving the nation's 15,000 air traffic
controllers, resigned last week over the uproar accompanying
disclosures of controllers sleeping on the job in several
locations, including Washington.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also
looking into controller errors and fatigue. The board, which is
an independent agency, said on Wednesday it would investigate
Monday's incident involving Michelle Obama's jet.
Representative John Mica, chairman of the House of
Representatives Transportation Committee, told Reuters in a
separate interview that he also supported Babbitt, a former
airline pilot and financial consultant who took the job in
"He still has my confidence," Mica said. "I think he
inherited a mess and he's trying to sort through it."
LaHood said he had not spoken with the White House about
the latest mishap involving a government jet carrying Mrs.
Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, on
a flight from New York.
The first lady's plane was ordered to abandon its landing
approach to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington after
controllers at a Virginia radar center allowed the Boeing 737
to get too close to a military cargo plane flying about 3 miles
There was a concern that the lumbering Air Force C-17 would
not clear the runway before Mrs Obama's plane, the next in line
on the approach path, was ready to land.
The Boeing jet made a series of subtle maneuvers before
making a new approach without incident. Neither plane was ever
in any imminent danger and both landed safely, the FAA said.
The mistake, called an operational error, is not uncommon
and usually they are corrected easily and quickly with little,
if any, outside notice.
However, there has been increasing concern of late about an
increase in those errors, including some that may have caused
more threatening situations than the one involving the first
lady's jet on Monday.
In response to that incident, the FAA has imposed a new
policy requiring that an air traffic supervisor monitor flights
carrying the first lady. Previously, a supervisor only oversaw
flights involving Air Force One, the presidential aircraft.
The FAA is addressing the air traffic controller incidents
by having Babbitt visit control centers this week to discuss
new scheduling rules aimed at reducing controller fatigue and
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)