By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FAA is investigating how three commuter jets narrowly avoided a midair collision near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport outside the nation’s capital.
The Washington Post reports the three planes were operated by US Airways and were carrying 192 passengers and crew members. It cited federal officials with direct knowledge of the incident.
The federal agency said in an emailed statement that it will take “appropriate action to address the miscommunication” that led to the incident Tuesday afternoon around 2 p.m. It says that due to bad weather, air traffic controllers switched landing and departing operations and miscommunication “led to a loss of the required separation” between the jets.
Standard separation requirements are 1,000 vertical feet and 3.5 lateral miles.
The agency said preliminary information indicated the landing plane came within 500 vertical feet and 1.7 lateral miles of one departing plane and 600 vertical feet and 2.8 lateral miles of the second plane.
An audio recording of communications between the landing plane and the air traffic control tower at the airport shows confusion as the flight is given instructions on landing.
“We were clear at the river back there. What happened?” someone in the plane’s cockpit says on the recording, obtained from LiveATC.com, a website that records air traffic communications.
The tower responds: “We’re trying to figure this out, too. Stand by.”
The landing flight then advises the tower that the plane doesn’t have much fuel left: “We gotta get on the ground here pretty quick,” a man says.
USAirways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said in an email that the airline is “currently investigating and working with the FAA to determine what occurred.”
The airline has more than 230 daily departures from the airport to over 70 cities.
The airport had another high-profile safety incident in March 2011 when two airliners landed without assistance from the tower. Pilots were unable to raise the lone supervisor on duty at midnight. The supervisor later acknowledged he had fallen asleep. A second controller has since been added to the midnight shift at Reagan National.