Reagan National: A No-Land Zone?

Oh boy. I’m now looking forward to my next trip Inside the Beltway even more than usual. I generally go to DC every month or so, taking a Continental shuttle from Cleveland Hopkins to Reagan National. Guess I better get the street address for the runway in DC and plug it into my GPS.

Seems like the air traffic controller on duty in the tower at Reagan National last night wasn’t available to help two planes loaded with passengers land. Hey. I understand. One minute you’re watching American Idol and the next your eyes bolt open and Dick Goddard is opining about the weather. Go figure.

Anyway, here’s the WaPo story about how Reagan National almost became a no-land zone, “National to add second controller overnight as tower goes dark.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered a second air traffic controller to be on duty overnight at Reagan National Airport, after the lone controller was unavailable early Wednesday as two passenger planes were trying to land.

LaHood also instructed the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the incident, to examine staffing levels at other airports around the country.

The two D.C. airliners, carrying a total of 165 passengers and crew members, landed on their own shortly after midnight after attempting to contact the control tower and receiving no response.

The tower normally is staffed by one air-traffic controller from midnight to 6 a.m. The on-duty controller 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.

Both planes–an American Airlines Boeing 737 flying in from Miami with 97 people onboard, and a United Airlines Airbus 320 flying in from Chicago with 68 people onboard–landed safely, within minutes of each other.

The planes’ 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.

“Today I directed the FAA to place two air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s control tower on the midnight shift,” LaHood said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

“It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical airspace. I have also asked FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to study staffing levels at other airports around the country.”

Let’s face it. Airline travel is a hassle these days, although I’ll admit that the last few strip searches have been rather erotic in a perverted sort of way. And with the airlines cutting back on everything — from the number of bags you can check to the peanuts that now serve as lunch or dinner — I fully expect that at some point there will be a lottery after boarding to select which passenger has to fly the plane.

If it’s me, let’s hope the GPS on my BlackBerry is working on the next trip to Reagan National. As everyone knows, men will not stop and ask for directions.

Just sayin’.





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