by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating a near-collision between three airplanes this week at the primary Washington, D.C., airport used by lawmakers.
The agency confirmed reports that a regional airplane was cleared to land on a runway at Ronald Reagan National Airport Wednesday from which two other jets were preparing to take off.
The FAA attributed the incident to a “miscommunication” between two towers that normally share responsibility for directing traffic into and out of the airport.
“Just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, the Potomac Tracon initiated a change in the traffic flow at Reagan National Airport (DCA) due to bad weather developing south of the airport,” the FAA said in a statement provided to The Hill on Thursday morning.
“DCA had been landing and departing aircraft on Runway 1, from the south to the north,” the FAA statement continued. “Due to the bad weather developing, the Tracon was switching operations to land and depart aircraft from the north to the south on Runway 19. During the switchover of operations, miscommunication between the Tracon and the DCA tower led to a loss of the required separation between two regional jets departing from Runway 1 and a regional jet inbound for Runway 19.”
The FAA said it was “investigating the incident and will take appropriate action to address the miscommunication.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday in a tweet that it would also be looking into the near-collision at Reagan, which is the closest airport to Washington, D.C. The NTSB is independent of the FAA and the Department of Transportation.
The air traffic control incident comes as President Obama’s nominee to serve as interim FAA administrator is being held up in the Senate.
A Senate committee approved Michael Huerta’s confirmation this week, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that he is blocking a full vote because Huerta’s five-year term at the FAA would last through Mitt Romney’s first term, should he win the White House.
The agency has repeatedly come under fire from lawmakers for errors made by air traffic controllers.
Last year, a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden was forced to abort an attempted landing at Andrews Air Force base in suburban Washington because it was prematurely cleared to land.
The FAA was also sharply criticized last year for multiple reports of its air traffic controllers sleeping on the job, leading to the resignation of its air traffic director last April.
The near-collision at Reagan airport this week was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.