Thursday, March 24, 2011

DC incident spurs look at airport tower staffing

WASHINGTON – Air traffic safety is under increased scrutiny by federal authorities following an incident in which two passenger jets landed without controller assistance at Reagan National Airport because no one could be reached in the airport tower.

An aviation official said that an air traffic supervisor — the lone controller on duty around midnight on Tuesday when the incident occurred — had fallen asleep. The official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity because an investigation is ensuing, said the incident has led the Federal Aviation Administration to launch a nationwide inquiry into airport tower staffing issues.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that the pilots of the two planes were in contact with controllers at a regional Federal Aviation Administration facility about 40 miles away in Warrenton, Va.

He said that after pilots were unable to raise the airport tower at Reagan by radio, they asked controllers in Warrenton to call the tower. Repeated calls from the regional facility to the tower went unanswered, Knudson added.


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