Opinion: White House aide out after $357,012 photo-op with Air Force One


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

A White House aide joined the unemployment lines today for his role in Air Force One’s controversial photo-op flyover above New York, the Obama administration just announced. (Of course, it’s scheduled for a Friday afternoon.)

In a statement, the White House said President Obama accepted the resignation of military office director Louis Caldera. Caldera, a former Army secretary, took responsibility for the Air Force flyover that sparked 9/11-echo panic in lower Manhattan on April 27.


What the White House wanted was the photo above. What it got at first was the one down below at the bottom, from frightened New Yorkers’ cameras and cellphones.

The political cost can’t yet be calculated. Obama supporters won’t care. But the fact is against advice from the outgoing Bush administration, Obama’s team changed Caldera’s White House job classification from a career military officer to a political appointee. Now, we’ll see which way they go with the second appointment to the office since Jan. 20.

The White House also released its review of the flight near the Statue of Liberty and the one photo.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Robert Gates apologized for the incident and said it had cost as much as $357,000. The fly-by with a plane used as Air Force One and two other Air Force crafts shocked commuters in Manhattan and New Jersey and was condemned by furious city and state officials.

In a letter released today, Gates apologized for the incident. The letter was posted on the Senate website of John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has called the incident an “Air Farce One photo op.” (Intentional misspelling)

Gates said the cost of a jumbo jet that is used as the president’s plane was estimated between $300,658 and $328,835. The cost of two accompanying F-16 jets was $28,177 for a maximum.... of $357,012. The idea was to use the April 27 flight for publicity pictures that included the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline.

Instead, 911 emergency lines were clogged by people who saw the planes and thought of another terrorist attack like on Sept. 11, 2001, when two airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 people. The ‘United States of America’ markings on the Air Force planes were not visible from ground level.

The publicity photographs have not been released, though the White House has promised to make them public. Obama has personally apologized for the incident, as have other officials, including the now-unemployed White House military aide Caldera.

Gates’ letter said the reaction to the low-flying planes was understandable and “we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission.”

But Gates also insisted that the appropriate agencies and air traffic controllers were told of the event. New York City officials have said they were asked not to inform the public beforehand.

“I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and DOD [Department of Defense] officials,” Gates added. He promised further review by defense officials.

-- Michael Muskal

Don’t panic. Click here to get automatic Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or folow us @latimestot

Photo credits: The White House (top); Jason McLane / Associated Press (bottom ).