Aircraft Incident Involving
Senator Barack Obama
United States Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama was a passenger in a Gulfstream 2 aircraft that collided with another aircraft on the ground at Midway Airport in Chicago. Senator Obama, members of his campaign staff, and Secret Service agents had just flown in from Nevada, where he had been campaigning. The left wingtip of the Gulfstream hit the right wingtip if a parked and unoccupied Cessna 208 aircraft. The impact was so minor that no one on the plane noticed any damage until later.
The nonschedueld flight operated under FAR Part 135 and had arrived at Midway shortly before the event took place at about 2:30 in the morning. None of the 10 passengers or two crew members were injured.
Date: 12 January 2008
Location: Chicago, IL (Midway Airport)
Operator: Long Charter Air, LLC
Aircraft: Gulfstream 2 (G-1159), registration N747NB
While the incident caused no injuries and only minor aircraft damage, it does bring up a potential public policy issue. Specifically, the issue of what should be considered an acceptable air transportation risk for presidential candidates. A comparison can be made with the policy on Secret Service protection for presidential candidates. Prior to the assassination of the presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, there were no clear standards or legal requirements for physical security of presidential candidates. Security decisions were largely left up to local law enforcement and to the candidates' campaign staffs. After the assassination, the US Congress authorized protection of major presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees.
The nature of the US presidential electoral process demands that candidates have to travel a great deal during the months leading up to the election. The candidates typically use a variety of air travel options, from scheduled commercial airliners to privately chartered aircraft. While there are risks with any type of air travel, the risks are higher for some kinds of flights. Senator Obama's aircraft was operating as a nonscheduled air carrier flight under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which are less strict than the Part 121 regulations for larger air carrier aircraft, and more strict than the Part 91 regulations for general aviation. Historically, the accident risk has been highest for Part 91 flight operations, significantly lower for Part 135 operations, and lower still for Part 121 operations. For example, in 2006 the NTSB estimated that the accident rate for general aviation flights was about four times greater than the Part 135 accident rate, and about 50 times greater than the rate for Part 121 air carrier flights.
The potential policy issue is whether exposure to air travel risks faced by presidential candidates should be limited by requiring that flights taken by candidates meet some minimum standard. A realistic limitation could take many forms, such as use of only approved aircraft operators or airlines, or perhaps requiring that candidates use government or military air transportation. The reasons for even considering such a a policy are the potentially negative political and social impacts of having a candidate seriously injured or killed during a campaign, especially from manageable risks such as those associated with air travel.
Fortunately, Senator Obama was not injured in his aircraft mishap. However, given the risks that he and the other candidates will continue to face, it seems reasonable to consider some kind of risk reduction policy now, and by doing so perhaps preventing a catastrophic disruption to the political process.
Below are links to several formats of the podcast associated with this event, as well as an embedded video podcast.
Audio: MP3 5:21
Aircraft Incident Involving Senator Obama
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http://airsafe.com/events/celebs/obama.htm -- Revised: 19 June 2008