Three Planes in Near Collision Over DC

August 2, 2012

Three planes nearly collided over DC on Tuesday, August 1, when flight controllers, in error, aimed two departing planes in to the flight path of an incoming aircraft.  All three were US Airways regional jets.  Apparently the fight paths of the outgoing planes were reversed in order to avoid a storm.  The pilot of the landing aircraft was asked to make a sharp left turn and abort his landing.  That pilot asked “what happened” and then added he was “running low on fuel” and needed to get his aircraft on the ground.  They’re called regional aircrafts for a reason. Obviously the FAA is investigating what happened but it appears there was confusion and human error in directing these aircraft at each other.  Fortunately the three planes landed safely but two hundred lives were needlessly put in jeopardy because of human error.  The pilots were not at fault since they were doing exactly as they were told.  The issue here is how safe are our skis?  As a frequent flier I hear all sorts of horror stories, not quite as bad as this but the skis over our busiest cities are not as safe as they should be.  Air traffic controllers are under a lot of pressure and dealing with thousands of flights every single day.  They simply do not and cannot afford the luxury of screwing up.  So the FAA needs to not only investigate this incident but needs to implement serious change.  There is impending doom in our skis, not from terrorism but from overcrowding and overworked air traffic controllers.  Yesterday, two American Airlines flights were cancelled out of Toronto due to weather which caused huge backups in to LGA.  Only one runway for takeoffs and one for landings at LGA and those two runways cross, causing massive delays when anything happens out of the ordinary.  As annoying as it was, I’d rather arrive home safely the next morning than not at all.  I hope everyone feels that way, despite the inconvenience.  If weather is an issue, that’s a good reason for delays.  Airlines should simply be honest with people.  Most would understand the words, “we don’t want to put your lives in danger”.  Hopefully this very close call will ignite change in the way the skis are controlled so that we avoid a potential tragedy like this one from ever happening again.  If a storm is serious enough to warrant a change in flight paths, a slight delay due to a comprehensive check by air traffic controllers of all incoming and outgoing plane traffic should be mandatory.  The issue of on time flights should never supersede the issue of safety.

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