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Tower At Reagan National Goes Silent As Planes Attempt To Land

he control tower at Reagan National Airport went silent early Wednesday, forcing two airliners carrying a total of 165 passengers and crew to land on their own. The tower 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. ( Plus d'info...

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mark tufts 0
it sounds like somebody is in trouble at reagan international
erictarnow 0
As an air traffic controller, I'm surprised DCA doesn't have 2 controllers on the mid-shift. I work at a 24 hour tower and we're staffed with two controllers every night. I can see how this made the news, but at the same time, Potomac did exactly what they were supposed to do, treat it as an uncontrolled airport and use non-radar procedures. Good job Potomac TRACON; as for the controller working the Tower, not sure what happened there....
andy streit 0
Looks like they may be talking about AAL1012 that arrived at 12:06am, and United 628. Previous to the American that landed at 12:06am, there was American 532 that landed at 11:43pm. It could be possible the ATC fell asleep, or went to use the restroom. I would think that if there is only one controller staffed, when is he to use the restroom is a "violent and urgent" feeling came upon him? Glad everyone landed safely (not that there would have been any issues that late at night looking at's Arrival and Departures.
Robert Fleming 0
makes none sense to me that there is only one controller staffed at that airport at that time of night. I've heard that Reagan is one of the busiest airports in the country, 24/7. Can you imagine what would happen to that ONE controller if something were to happen because aircraft couldn't reach anyone?
Ashley Halsey 0
Check the updated version. LaHood ordered a second controller on the mid shift. Yes, it is AAL102. The did a go-round and landed at 12:33, after the United flight.
Ashley Halsey 0
Make that AAL1012.
Gene Nowak 0
Ironic! President Reagan fired the controller's in 1981. In 2011 they fall asleep at "his" airport due to fatigue.
Toby Sharp 0
@Robert Fleming. Correct, Reagan is a super busy airport, but not during the times this incident occured. Mostly freight and few passenger flights would come in at those times. its all about $. 2 controllers cost somebody twice as much, but 1 controller at the expense of safety reduces the cost by half for that night.
Paul Claxon 0
Make that used to be a busy airport now that they tried to ban most of us going into "Fire'em all Reagan National, but they red taped us out of there.
Toby Sharp 0
hahahahahahaha, fire'em all National
Gene spanos 0
How many more incidents have taken place during the hours from 10 pm to 7
while the two man team(s) trade off - sleeping?
No wonder they want Next Gen and ASR.....more flights to help
stay awake!
gerry ceccarini 0
No matter how many controllers there are, the present system is antiquated. Using voice communications slows down the system. A lot more traffic could be handled by NEXGEN. Safer, more efficient.
Gene spanos 0
Hopefully, the sat's will be up...but when you loose commincations...when the sat's go down...then what?
Gene spanos 0
For those manning the towers here at ORD - let's not forget that this is not a video game. The high numbers in [ Errors ] is enough to cause an alert too. Ten pounds in a five pound bag - is Daley's plan.Mean while..we all must suffer. Too bad the 2016 Games was lost..or was it the underground writing campaign that got you King Richard??
Ed Marciniak 0
Some things must be done based on reliability not cost when it comes to safety of life. Would one operator at a nuclear power plant make you feel safe?

When everything is 'normal' a lack of resources isn't so much a problem....when there is an emergency demanding attention or an equipment failure, where does that leave everyone not involved needing services?
cj525g 0
It's cut the budget, cut taxes, goverment is wasteful and inefficient but then a predictable outcome such as this occurs and people are aghast. Many things are worth their cost.
toolguy105 0
The problem wasn't all that bad. Commercial aircraft go into uncontrolled airports all the time. There are procedures in place for just such a condition. Of course the pilots of these two planes also had the option of diverting to Dulles or BWI. The fact is the procedures worked and the planes landed safely.

What I'm upset over is the budget cutting cost saving idiots that left one controller in a tower located in a tightly controlled airspace as DC. Then of course living in the area are the talking heads reporting the news. The best one was the station who teased their evening news with; Two plane nearly collide while attempting to land at National. How they get that from two plane that landed 15 minutes apart; I don't know.
bob anderson 0
Fire the sleeping slug. As I understand, he was on his fourth mid in a row. If he can't manage his life so as to arrive at work in a rested condition, then he does not belong in the cab at all. It was his fault alone. Put the blame where it belongs--on the individual who fell asleep while on duty.
Maybe this IS the solution. With so little traffic arriving overnight, why don't we just make National an uncontrolled field and save the taxpayers a lot of money. In reality, even without an operational tower, you cannot get into or out of KDCA without a ATC clearance to operate in the Washington SFRA. I trust the guys up front to operate safely out of any uncontrolled airfield (they do hundreds, if not thousands of such operations every day..safely)so let them do what they are trained to do. KUNV (State College, PA) is just now getting a tower. They are located in a area of high mixed part 91 and part 121 traffic at low altitudes. Everyone has been operating safely there for years without an operational control tower, so it does work.
cj525g 0
Certainly thousands of aircraft landings at uncontolled fields, inclucding commercial aircraft, safely occur daily. Neither was there any real danger nor significant safety issue in this case. But, DCA isn't just any airport. It's in the middle of our capital, it's in the middle of the most restricted and controlled airspace in the country. Nor do I feel the oft refrain of "turn it over to the private sector" makes any sense. Do we want the low bidder who has a profit incentive as well making these decisions? Clearly, our expectaions are higher and my point remains that too musch budget cutting is ready, shoot, aim.
tohoward 0
Biggest threat here is that the public might notice that one controller, or a dozen, would contribute little to an operation where at least fifteen minutes separate arrivals. That could force a rational decision to close the tower during such sustained periods, which, horror of horrors, could lead to reduced budget and staffing.
John Schaefer 0
Why hasn't anyone considered a tower take-over scenario. Would the pilots want to be landing at an airport taken over by bad guys?
John Grove 0
DCA is still there today by the grace of Congress, for the benefit of Congress. Why not let "the Hill" chip in from their office budgets to cover the cost of a second controller?
it goes in more detail on this other link if you didn't check:
It's a damn good thing it was VFR that night. Flying the IFR approaches in to KDCA are a bear, and if an unmonitored beacon goes awry you're in
P-56 ( with a stinger missle up your tail in a heart beat.
Bobby Rhett 0
The problem with DCA being an "uncontrolled" airport has more to do with ground ops than with flight safety. Airports that are uncontrolled have clear procedures and directions, and generally handle a lower volume of traffic than DCA. At early night (11pm-1am) DCA has a fair amount of ground activity. Ground control is handled by the tower during these periods. The TRACON can't deal with ground control. The second issue is the runway projects underway at DCA. They actually have contractors inside the safety area between the late night arriving flights. As one of those contractors, I would have wet my pants hearing that the tower did not do a visual scan of the runway prior to giving aircraft clearance to land. Or if the tower did not respond to radio calls for permission to enter or cross the Safety Area. When 8 hours of work needs to get done in less than 6 hours, we need someone in the tower to tell us it's OK to enter the safety area. If we limit our work to after the last flight, that window closes to about 3.5 hours.
toolguy105 0
Good point Bobby and another reason why two controllers need to be on duty at DCA.
De Crockett 0
It's a good thing that the pilots were well rested and didn't need to leave their seats for personal needs. It's time that industry and government understands that people, professional or otherwise, are not machines and plan accordingly!
21GS 0
The press(as usual) is making a bigger deal than needs to be made. I fly into busy uncontrolled airports on many occassions without incident. We all know the correct proceedures which was done by the pilots. Announce your intentions and look out the both windows and don't forget your check list ... even check the tower for green or red lights. Looks like the pilots did what they get paid to do. Good job.
Nolan Bishop 0
Reagan is a strange airport.
Mike Hand 0
I think the guys up front may get the blame for this...

Somewhere in the FARS, ok, CFRs now about part 91.129 is the following:

No person may, at any airport with an operating control tower, operate an aircraft on a runway or taxiway, or take off or land an aircraft, unless an appropriate clearance is received from ATC.

That is a difficult call to make at midnight in the pointy end of a jet traveling 250kts, but I wonder if I wouldn't have gone to BWI or Dulles. A certificate could get suspended if I landed at Denver or Phoenix, or even Cheyenne without ATC clearance.
Watch Dog 0

I think the argument could be made in front of an NTSB board (those who conduct the violation hearings) that the effectively was not an operating ATCT.
Mike Hand 0

I concur with your statement that it could be argued in front of the NTSB. However, I don't know how I would have known that there was not an operating control tower, since there were no notams etc. about a tower outage.

Also, I doubt that I would want to land based on the thought that I could argue in front of the NTSB.

Further hindsight is 20/20 as well. If the pilots had been busted for violation of 91.129, management would not support them. If they had gone to BWI or Dulles based on "no clearance," and by so doing caused a huge logistical problem for the ground crew, and a ton of complaints to the customer service department, you can bet that airline management would be in the middle of any uproar that came of it. Right now it is just the pilots on their own.

Not arguing your point, just trying to put myself in their shoes.
toolguy105 0
The problem with the CFR's is they contradict themselves. Somewhere else in the CFR you will find a procedurenfor what to do in just such an instance as what happened the other morning.
Jane Howarth 0
surely they need two controllers there, one surely cannot have sole responsibility not only that but if there is two of them they can keep each other awake as they say, defo need two controllers i think i reall hope they do this and not just talk about it
simris2k 0
I think the only reason everyday in D.C. is up in arms is that they are only interested in protecting the Capital! Does any station deserve any less simply because we don't have lawmakers present or in the vicinity? While I understand the severity of the issue at hand, I still think this has more to do with politics than people actually worried about airliner safety. I trust our pilots (for the most part) and know that they are capable people, who I don't trust are the surrounding politicians who seem to only be worried about saving their collective tails...i.e. the necessity to having special precautions in/out of DCA after Sep 11th! No reason this airport should get any more attention than say La Guardia or Boston.
Franco Ivrea 0
Let's consider that the two pilots were right in considering the airport uncontrolled. But then, can an IFR flight land into an uncontrolled airport, or should they have diverted on the alternate?
Dennis Johanson 0
Flying 101, You learn how to land at an uncontrolled airport!!!
These guys are Professional Pilots, right? The hardest part for them is
getting guidance getting to the gate.

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