Carrier Says Safety of Obama's Plane Was Not in Question

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that it is investigating what caused Senator Barack Obama’s plane to make an unexpected landing today in St. Louis. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president was traveling from Chicago to Charlotte when the pilot's first officer announced that they were experiencing controllability issues with the pitch of the MD-80 series aircraft.Those on board were told the issue was a "minor little problem," and the plane remains in St. Louis this afternoon for maintenance. In statements today, the NTSB called the incident "an uneventful precautionary landing" and Midwest Airlines, the carrier that runs the charter plane, said "there was never an issue as to the safety of the flight." The carrier said an emergency slide in the tail cone of the plane had inadvertently deployed in flight. The Federal Aviation Administration said today that a slide deploying in flight does indeed happen from time to time, and could cause flight control problems.Indeed, on Monday NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker called this a "serious incident.""It is extremely serious in this particular case," Rosenker said. "There are hydraulic lines back there. There are control cables that deal with the elevators and other areas of control surfaces for the aircraft, and could potentially make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fly the aircraft." MD-80s series planes are some of the oldest aircraft that U.S. airlines are flying today, and their age means they're more likely than newer planes to require maintenance. The same type of plane was at the center of this spring's mass flight cancellations,  when Delta and American cancelled thousands of flights to reinspect wiring on their MD-80 series aircraft.The Air Transport Association has approximately 470 MD-80 series aircraft registered to their member airlines, the vast majority of which are operated by Delta and American. According to John Eakin, aviation safety consultant and president of Air Data Research in Helotes, Texas, MD-80 planes actually encompass a number of different aircraft models. Douglas manufactured several variations of the DC-9 as early as 1966. He added that when the company was taken over by McDonnell, their aircraft became known as MD planes of various types. -Matt Hosford, Kate Barrett and Sunlen Miller

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