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Military revamps jet fighter training rules after encounters

February 14, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Air Force is tightening its jet fighter training rules and has sent two pilots and an air traffic controller to ``refresher courses″ after a spate of alarming close encounters with commercial airliners last week.

Jet fighters practicing interception maneuvers no longer can approach non-military aircraft without consulting ground control first, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said after meeting with Air Force officials Thursday.

In addition, any pilots practicing off the mid-Atlantic coast _ some of the busiest air space in the country _ will now have to maintain a 5,000-foot vertical distance from non-military planes, more than double the current buffer, Lautenberg said. The five-mile horizontal distance remains unchanged.

The Air Force also will mandate that any jet fighter pilot who trains in that airspace outside non-posted practice times has to make sure it is clear of other planes, Lautenberg said.

``This is a real refresher,″ he said. ``I think the flying public can feel a bit more secure now.″

The Air Force confirmed meeting with Lautenberg but refused to release details.

``The Air Force is taking a number of positive steps,″ said Maj. Chris Geisel. ``They’re in the process of being coordinated, and we’ll provide then once they are finalized.″

Of the four close encounters between commercial aircraft and jet fighters, one off the New Jersey coast and another along the Maryland seashore sparked the greatest concern.

In the first incident, on Feb. 5, two Air National Guard fighters practicing interception maneuvers saw a Nations Air flight nearby and one of the pilots decided to approach.

The close contact triggered the Boeing 727′s sensitive collision alert system, and the pilot put the plane in a sudden dive followed by a steep climb as an avoidance maneuver.

Two days later, four Air National Guard F-16s returning from a training mission came within 2,000 of and American Eagle Saab 340 turboprop en route from Raleigh-Durham, N.C., to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Similar close encounters were reported over New Mexico and Texas last week.

Lautenberg said the military has ordered two pilots and a ground control person involved in the New Jersey encounter to take ``refresher courses.″

Air Force pilots everywhere are getting additional training on close encounters with airliners, Geisel said.

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