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Answers Sought in Close Calls

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RALEIGH — Friday night, an American Eagle flight out ofRaleigh-Durham International Airport became the second commercial flightto be tailed closely by a military jet in three days. Those passengersand their families, along with the flying public, are waiting for answers.

The Air Force has suspended all of its training flights in therestricted areas along the East Coast, pending a review of rules andoperating procedures.

The first close encounter involved a NationAir plane, which dodged twoF-16s off the New Jersey coast on Wednesday. The military claims thefighters were trying to identify the civilian planes in a restrictedflight area.

Pilots of the civilian planes resorted to suddenly dropping and thenregaining altitude in attempts to evade the military jets, as civiliancontrollers were telling the military controllers to order the militaryjets away. Still, the F-16 tailed the NationsAir plane for a harrowingtwo minutes.

Commercial airlines commonly fly in these areas, with properclearance. Usually they are instructed to fly higher or lower thanmilitary aircraft carrying out maneuvers in the same general airspace.

The system has been in place for years, leading Air Force Lt. Gen.(Ret) Robert Springer of Southern Pines to find the close calls surprisingand coincidental. He told WRAL-TV5 that it is the coincidence of twoevents so close together that makes it news, and that perhaps it is thenew, highly sophisticated tracking systems on the civilian planes thatcontributed to the events. Until recently, civilian pilots would not havebeen aware of other planes being so close.

No one is sure who, if anyone, is at fault in either of the closecalls. The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal AviationAdministration and the Air Force are all investigating, and will jointlydetermine if system changes need to be made.

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