‘Another very scary moment’: DC-area lawmakers react to another close call at Reagan National Airport

On Wednesday morning, an American Airlines flight bound for Boston from Reagan National Airport in Arlington had to abort its takeoff to avoid colliding with another plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration said American Airlines Flight 2134’s takeoff was aborted by air traffic controllers because another aircraft had been cleared to land on an intersecting runway. The FAA is investigating the incident.

As WTOP’s news partner 7News reported, it is estimated the two planes came within 1,300 feet of each other.

The American flight was taking off on the 7,159-foot Runway 1 and had reached speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour, as another plane — a smaller, twin-engine King Air — was in the process of landing on the shorter 5,204-foot Runway 33. The two runways intersect about three quarters up Runway 1.

In recordings, air traffic controllers can be heard urgently directing the American Airlines pilot to stop the takeoff and turn off the main runway to avoid crossing paths with the smaller plane.

“American 2134, cancel takeoff clearance!” an air traffic controller said. “Zero alpha alpha, go around! Go around!”

“Rejecting the takeoff, 2134,” a pilot replied.

“Zero alpha alpha, we cannot go around. We were already on the ground,” said the pilot.

“American 2134, do you want to go back to the gate?” said the air traffic controller.

“Yeah, we need to talk to maintenance, but yeah, I think we were above 80 knots, so we’re going to have to get an inspection,” said the pilot.

According to records from FlightAware, the American Airlines flight ultimately took off at 2:21 p.m. and landed in Boston at 3:52 p.m., about four hours late.

This is the second incident like this to take place in recent months. On April 18, a JetBlue and Southwest Airlines plane were also told to stop to avoid a collision on the runway. In that incident, those two planes came within 400 feet of a crash, and one aviation safety expert said at the time there was no room for error.

“Could have been much worse”

The incident has a congressional delegation from the D.C. area expressing concerns about the Senate’s vote to increase air traffic at the airport.

“This was another very scary moment,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland.

Van Hollen is among a congressional delegation made up of lawmakers from D.C., Maryland and Virginia who spoke out against a FAA reauthorization bill which would allow add five more landings and takeoffs out of the airport.

Van Hollen said the second near miss incident is a reminder of why the Senate’s decision to add more slots at Reagan National was “so misguided.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, was one of the main backers of the amendment, which proponents said would bring more direct flights to the D.C. region from other parts of the nation. The House would later pass the amendment and it was signed by President Joe Biden.

WTOP reached out to Sen. Cruz’s office for comment on the latest near miss.

In a joint statement, Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said they are “deeply relieved no one was injured” but called what happened further evidence that the airport is “severely overburdened and at capacity.”

“It shows why the Senate’s decision to jam even more flights onto the busiest runway in America as part of the FAA reauthorization bill — a move we fought against for months — was so dangerous and reckless,” the senators said.

On X, Congressman Don Beyer, of Virginia, said what took place “could have been much worse.”

“We warned Congress repeatedly about the safety risks of putting more traffic on DCA’s congested runways,” Beyer said.

Van Hollen said a desire for additional flights in the region could be better handled by adding the flights to nearby Dulles International Airport and BWI Marshall Airport.

“It makes much more sense to make better use of those airports rather than cram more and more flights into National Airport and onto the busiest runway in the country,” Van Hollen said.

According to Van Hollen, as they await the outcome of the FAA’s investigation, he said he will work with his Virginia colleagues to see if there is a way they can “claw back” at the additional slots at Reagan.

“This (incident) should be a warning to those who are pressing to open up even more slots,” Van Hollen said.

WTOP’s Dan Ronan contributed to this story. 

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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