Reporting Mike Hellgren
WASHINGTON (WJZ)—Air traffic mistake. Three planes barely avoid each other at Reagan National Airport.
Mike Hellgren reports it’s a miscommunication that put hundreds of passengers in danger.
It was an alarming miscommunication at Reagan National Airport among air traffic controllers.
Sources say they allowed two US Airways regional jets to launch as another plane was coming in to land, and there wasn’t enough space between them all.
“That miscommunication should not have happened,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
It happened Tuesday afternoon when a storm caused a shift in the wind and controllers were changing the direction of all takeoffs and landings.
The inbound plane and first jet to take off were only 12 seconds apart, traveling at a combined speed of more than 400 mph when a controller noticed the mistake.
“Where was the breakdown in procedure? We have to determine where it was so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Mark Rosenker, CBS News aviation analyst.
According to the FAA, operational errors are growing. In 2009, there were 1,234; In 2010, 1,887.
And Congress’ General Accounting Office says serious airborne errors tripled in the last three years nationwide.
WJZ first investigated the problem in 2007 after two planes missed each other on intersecting runways at BWI by just 400 feet. Even then, a captain told us the problem was growing worse.
“As traffic has increased, we’re seeing more and more of these taking place and sometimes on a daily basis,” said US Airways Captain Terry McYenus in a January 2008 interview.
In this latest case, the FAA says while the planes were close, they were not going to crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board has also investigated several other close calls at Reagan National Airport.
LaHood declined to say what would have happened if the controller had not diverted the planes at the last minute.