Controller Error Triggers Close Call Between Airliners at Reagan

Inbound and outbound aircraft came within 1.4 nm and 500 feet of each other.

Reagan National Airport

Reagan National Airport

Reagan National Airport

Three airliners were headed on a collision course at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday in the latest in a string of high profile incidents caused by air traffic control errors.

Tuesday’s incident involved three US Airways commuter jets, two of which had just taken off from the airport and one of which was inbound to land when the incident occurred.

According to a report by the Washington Post, the aircraft on approach and the first aircraft on departure were 1.4 miles apart and within 500 feet vertically when air traffic control realized the situation and took corrective action.

It would have taken the two aircraft, flying at a combined speed of 436 mph, 12 seconds to close the space between them had they maintained their intended flight paths.

After being directed to make an immediate turn to the right, the pilot of the inbound jet reportedly asked ATC, “We were cleared at the river there…what happened?”

“We really don’t have enough fuel here for this. We have to get on the ground pretty quick,” the pilot went on to say, after being told that ATC was “trying to figure this out.”

The mix-up was initially triggered by an incoming storm and a wind direction change, which caused Warrenton controllers to redirect several inbound aircraft approaching from the south on a new course that would allow them to approach the north side of the airport’s main runway.

A federal official told the Post that the tower decided to make the change, but didn’t communicate the information to approach control.

The collective 192 passengers and crewmembers on board all three aircraft were unharmed in the incident and proceeded to their intended destinations without further incident.