President Bush's secret Thanksgiving Day trip to Baghdad has been criticised by the British air traffic controllers' union for threatening the safety of other travellers and exposing a weakness in the system that could be exploited by terrorists.
David Luxton, the national secretary of Prospect, said that Mr Bush's surprise holiday flight to visit American troops serving in Iraq, during which his Boeing 747 was falsely identified to air traffic control as a Gulfstream 5 jet for security reasons, broke international regulations.
"The overriding concern is if the President's men could dupe the air traffic control, what's to stop a highly organised terrorist group from duping air traffic control?" he told The Washington Post.
Mr Bush's trip, designed to boost the morale of troops as well as his own ratings, has been a source of controversy ever since a White House spokesman claimed that the President's pilot identified himself to a passing British Airways pilot as flying a Gulfstream not a 747. British Airways has since denied there was any such conversation.
Mr Luxton said the journey was in breach of regulations against filing false flight plans set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which apply to military plans using civilian airspace. He said that by identifying itself as a Gulfstream it endangered itself and other air traffic.
A Gulfstream is much nimbler than a 747 and can climb and manoeuvre away from a potential collision - something the air traffic controllers would have assumed of the President's plane even though it was not capable of such moves.
In addition, the "wake vortex" of a 747 is much larger than that of a Gulfstream and could have endangered smaller planes that might have been told by unsuspecting controllers to fly behind it.Reuse content