Thursday, March 24, 2011

NTSB Investigating Air Traffic Control at Reagan National

Washington Post: The control tower at Reagan National Airport went silent early Wednesday, forcing the pilots of two airliners carrying a total of 165 passengers and crew members to land on their own.

The tower, which normally is staffed by one air-traffic controller from midnight to 6 a.m., did not respond to pilot requests for landing assistance or to phone calls from controllers elsewhere in the region, who also used a “shout line,” which pipes into a loudspeaker in the tower, internal records show.

An American Airlines Boeing 737 flying in from Miami with 97 people on board circled the airport after receiving no response from the tower at midnight. Minutes later, a United Airlines Airbus 320 flying in from Chicago with 68 people on board also got no answer from the tower.

Both planes landed safely after their pilots took matters into their own hands, broadcasting their progress as they approached and landed. They also were communicating with controllers at a separate facility in the region that does not handle landings.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Wednesday he is instructing the agency to increase controller staffing at the airport during the late shift.

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