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March 26, 2011

Air Traffic Control: Safety investigation underway after D.C. incident

Aviation officials say that two planes landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., without clearance because the pilots were unable to communicate with the control tower. The air traffic controller on duty at the time was allegedly asleep, raising critical questions about controller fatigue and adequate staffing procedure.

According to Motley Rice aviation lawyer and former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo, problems with air traffic controllers are not uncommon and have sometimes had severe consequences such as the Hudson River mid-air collision.

Schiavo said in a radio interview with WTOP Radio, "A controller has many responsibilities, not the least of which is to guide you to land, but also to separate traffic and watch out for any problems or emergencies ... What needs to be done is obviously very strict rules that must be followed at all times.

The pilots of American Airlines flight 1012 and United Airlines flight 628T, in communication with an air traffic control facility approximately 40 miles away in Warrenton, Va., were able to land safely. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the incident.