FAA investigating near collision of two jets at Reagan National Airport

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to WTOP it is investigating a near collision that occurred Thursday morning at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Two passenger jets came within 400 feet of each other before controllers took last-minute evasive action and immediately stopped the two planes. It’s not clear why the jets were authorized to be on the same runway at the same time.

At 7:41 a.m., one controller frantically yelled, “JetBlue 1554 stop! 1554 stop!” This took place 30 seconds after JetBlue flight to Boston was cleared for takeoff and was on Runway 4, beginning its movement down the runway.

The plane was gaining speed when a controller frantically radioed to the crew of nearby Southwest Airlines Flight 2937 to immediately stop its movement. The Southwest flight bound for Orlando was moving close to the runway, and it appears the two planes were on a collision course.

“Southwest, stop! Southwest 2937, stop!” a controller yelled.

Air traffic control audio can also be heard of the moment the JetBlue flight was cleared for takeoff.

“JetBlue 1554, traffic holds off your right. Wind calm, Runway 4, cleared for takeoff,” another controller said. The JetBlue pilot acknowledged the air traffic controller and began the flight.

“Cleared for takeoff, Runway 4, JetBlue 1554,” the pilot replied.

Radio traffic then shows another unidentified voice urging an air traffic controller to stop the Southwest Airlines flight, after the JetBlue flight is moving and just before the controller issues her urgent call.

“Tell Southwest to stop,” the transmission states.

The Southwest flight had crossed what is called a “hold short line,” and the pilots stopped the plane before it crossed onto the runway. It ended up facing the oncoming JetBlue plane at an angle at the intersection.

The Southwest pilot replied: “We stopped. We were cleared to cross Runway 4.”

“We’re stopping, JetBlue 1554,” the pilots of that plane said.

“An air traffic controller instructed Southwest Airlines Flight 2937 to cross Runway 4 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport while JetBlue Flight 1554 was starting its takeoff roll on the same runway,” the FAA said in a statement emailed to WTOP. “The FAA will investigate.”

“This is very worrisome”

John Nance, an aviation analyst for ABC News and Good Morning America, joined WTOP to talk about what may have happened at DCA earlier Thursday

“This is unacceptably close,” retired Alaska Airlines captain and aviation safety analyst John Nance told WTOP. “We have a dichotomy between two controllers who did not have situational awareness of exactly who was doing what. This is very unusual, because they usually coordinate as seamlessly as possible.”

Nance said the JetBlue flight was moving at an estimated 34 knots, or 39 mph, before it stopped. The plane would become airborne at about 135 knots, about 45 seconds after first beginning its acceleration.

“This one is going to take some study. We were out of options in this case. The crew had minimal time,” he said.

Both the JetBlue and Southwest flights taxied back to different runways and, a short time later, departed to their respective destinations.

Nance emphasized that the system worked in preventing a collision. However, there were several breakdowns.

“There was no margin left, if there had been a failure to communicate to JetBlue and they were on a high-speed portion of their take off, they would not have been able to swerve, more than likely with someone entering the intersection at exactly that point,” Nance said.

“Had the controller failed to issue the warning, you might have easily had a collision. We have backup systems, sometimes they’re human and sometimes they’re mechanical, but when you run out of backup systems and one more problem is going to give you the high likelihood of a major collision, this is very worrisome,” he added.

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Dan Ronan

Weekend anchor Dan Ronan is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in business and finance reporting.

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