In a statement issued this afternoon, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt expressed “outrage” over the incidents early yesterday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in which two separate flight crews could not reach an air traffic controller as their aircraft were upon approach to the field shortly after midnight. Both flights–an American Airlines Boeing 737 from Dallas and a United Airlines Airbus A320 from Chicago–landed safely without making contact with air traffic control at Reagan National.
Both crews contacted a regional FAA facility in Warrenton, Va., after failing to reach the Reagan controller on duty. Controllers at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control unsuccessfully tried reaching Reagan ATC over the telephone and then guided the airplanes to a safe landing via radar. Early suspicions centered on the possibility that the controller might have fallen asleep while on duty or might have gotten locked out of the control room.
“The FAA is thoroughly investigating Wednesday’s early morning incidents at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s control tower,” said Babbitt. “While that is taking place, we have suspended the air traffic controller from all operational duties. I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public…As a former airline pilot, I am personally outraged that this controller did not meet his responsibility to help land these two airplanes. Fortunately, at no point was either airplane out of radar contact and our back-up system kicked in to ensure the safe landing of both airplanes.”