The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement today that it will "investigate the air-traffic-control incident at Reagan National Airport on July 31. It will involve review of communications recordings and radar data, as well as interviews with supervisors and controllers at DCA and Potomac TRACON over the next few days."
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said safety is its top priority. "We are always looking to enhance the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, and we will participate in any investigation that looks into improving the system," the controllers' union said in a statement.
With a storm approaching, air traffic controllers in Warrenton, Virginia, told the tower at Reagan National they were changing the direction in which planes were flying into and out of the airport to avoid shifting winds, according to the Post. Warrenton controllers communicated the plan to the tower at Reagan National.
"The tower agreed, but they didn't pass it on to all the people they needed to pass it on to," a federal official told the newspaper.
The official was familiar with the incident, but was not authorized to speak publicly.
With the information not passed off, two planes experienced a loss of separation with another flight that was landing. Controllers turned the inbound flight south, just 12 seconds from impact with the other planes, the Post reported.
"Are you with me?" an air traffic control official at Reagan National was heard asking the pilot of the inbound flight.
"We were cleared at the river there, what happened?" asked the pilot.
"Stand by, we're trying to figure this out," replied the tower.
"We really don't have enough fuel here for this. We have to get on the ground pretty quick," said the pilot.
In 2011, an air traffic control person at Reagan National fell asleep on the job and failed to respond to pilots trying to land at the airport, according to the Washington Post.
"We will always have human error," ABC News aviation analyst John Nance said, "but the air traffic control doesn't have money to build a high-tech system to alert folks when errors are made."
Intellpuke: You can read this article by ABC Good Morning America Correspondent Jim Avila in context here: abcnews.go.com/US/us-airways-commuter-jets-avoid-collision-washington-dc/story?id=16910493#.UBrDj6Dh7No