Inquiry after Reagan National goes silent

The control tower at Reagan National Airport went silent early Wednesday, forcing the pilots of two airliners carrying a total of 165 passengers and crew members to land on their own, reports the Washington Post.
The air traffic control tower was unmanned at Reagan National Airport as an American Airlines pilot approached for a landing.
The tower, which normally is staffed by one air-traffic controller from midnight to 6 a.m., 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.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 flying in from Miami with 97 people on board circled the airport after receiving no response from the tower at midnight.
Minutes later, a United Airlines Airbus A320 flying in from Chicago with 68 people on board also got no answer from the tower.
Both planes landed safely after their 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.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Wednesday he was instructing the agency to increase controller staffing at the airport during the late shift.
“Today I directed the FAA to place two air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s control tower on the midnight shift,” he said in a statement. “It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space. I have also asked FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to study staffing levels at other airports around the country.”

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