Near-Miss at Reagan National Today As Air Traffic Control Error Put Two Planes On Collision Course

Wow. It appears that a Southwest Airlines flight and JetBlue flight came within approximately 300 feet of colliding on Washington Reagan National runway 4 this morning, when air traffic control instructed both planes to be there at the same time. This was first reported VAS Aviation.

Southwest 2937 was departing DC enroute to Orlando, which JetBlue 1554 was heading from DC to Boston. Southwest Airlines was instructed to “cross runway 4” – and then the tower cleared JetBlue to take off on that same runway 4.

Shortly afterward in air traffic control communications we hear:

    DCA Tower: “JetBlue 1554, STOP, JetBlue 1554 STOP”

Southwest 2937 responds, “We stopped. We were cleared to cross runway 4.” And JetBlue then answers, “We’re stopping, JetBlue 1554.”

Then they need to get both planes out of the way and try that again. As you can imagine, the pilots of these aircraft – who did a fantastic job, in fact aviation watchdog JonNYC passes along commentary that it seems as though the Southwest crew had already figured out what was happening before being told to stop – may have needed a moment to get their bearings.

    DCA Tower: “JetBlue 1554, how much longer do you guys need? Just for planning purposes.”
    And JetBlue responds, “Uhh…”
    DCA Tower: “You are fine right there. No one else is coming from behind. Do as you need and call me back.”

Meanwhile, Southwest professionally and politely offers this wasn’t my fault and we’re going to get this straight and on the record. “Tower, Southwest 2937, I guess we need a phone number.”

These aircraft came pretty close:

According to ADS-B data, Southwest 2937 was about 60 meters past the hold short line, coming as close as about 20 meters to the runway edge.

Here’s a recording of air traffic control:

Air traffic control clearly screwed up coordination, with ground clearing Southwest to cross a runway where JetBlue was then cleared by the tower to take off.

I’ve been increasingly concerned with air traffic control incidents. The FAA air traffic organization has badly bungled technology investments over the last 20 years. Way too much is manual, reliant on people coordinating and noticing and people make mistakes.

There are 300 near-collisions per year. Famously last year we had the American Airlines New York JFK – London flight which nearly taxied into a Delta 737 and the Fedex plane that was cleared to land on top of a Southwest Airlines 737 in Austin. An FAA technology failure last year led to a nationwide ground stop, so bad it was only the second time that’s ever happened. The other time was 9/11.

(HT: JonNYC)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. ATC has been screwed up since 1981. nd, they named an airport after the person who screwed it up.

  2. @WileyDog – you really can’t blame Reagan for firing the air traffic controllers in 1981 as the cause of ATC issues today. Those controllers who did not return to work would not be working today – they’d be long since retired.

    Remember also that the PATCO strike was illegal. The controllers forced the administration’s hand. A court enjoined the strike. Controllers were given 48 hours to return to work. The court fined the union and its officers for breaking the law.

  3. Didn’t Reagan’s ATC busting interrupt the ready passing down of a bunch of institutional knowledge and reduce the capacity to train as many as well and deepen the bench of replacements for many years thereafter?

    By this point I would hope that Reagan was largely irrelevant to the state of affairs with ATC in the US. I would be less surprised if the mistakes are not more often now related to excessive personal electronic device use/distraction and mental exhaustion being worse than it used to be when commutes were much shorter and way more consistent.

  4. “ATC been screwed up since 1981”

    Reagan living rent free in WileyDog’s head. What an ignoramous.

  5. …clearly screwed up coordination…
    Well they made an error,.yes. Tower thought the one were holding short of the runway, it wasn’t (as it was clear to cross, too early), but Tower saw it an stopped both.
    Errors shouldn’t happen, but they happen.
    Many pilots do errors as well, in flight or on the ground, shouldn’t happen but happens.
    In atc, not enough controllers are avaialble, as during covid they didn’t replace enough controllers that retired. The same happened with pilots… And the training takes a long time, but controllers and pilots are needed now.

  6. @GUWonder – it caused issues 40 years ago, absolutely. that took time to work out. but today’s challenges with ATC are not a legacy of the 1981 PATCO strike

  7. It sounds like the FAA needs to be under a consent decree where their failures are enumerated and the fixes agreed upon. Sooner or later the parties on the airplanes may not be able to stop a disaster.

  8. A coalition of eleven Republican attorneys general submitted a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday, warning the federal agency that prioritizing DEI in the hiring process could put airline passengers at risk.

    “We are troubled by some recent reports regarding your agency’s hiring practices and priorities,” wrote Kansas attorney general Kris Kobach, who led the four-page letter. “It seems that the FAA has placed ‘diversity’ bean counting over safety and expertise, and we worry that such misordered priorities could be catastrophic for American travelers.”

    The letter, addressed to FAA administrator Michael Whitaker, claims that the airline-transportation agency “appears to prioritize virtue-signaling ‘diversity’ efforts over aviation expertise” under the Biden administration. “This calls into question the agency’s commitment to safety,” it reads.
    As evidence of the agency’s deemphasis of merit-based hiring, the letter cites the FAA’s “five-year strategic plan,” which states that the “FAA will diversify its workforce by rethinking its hiring practices and capitalize on opportunities to hire people who will bring new and diverse skills to the agency and reflect the demographics of the U.S. labor force.”

    The Obama administration followed a similar hiring practice, when the FAA “sought out applicants with ‘severe intellectual’ and ‘psychiatric’ disabilities to staff the agency responsible for air traffic control, aviation safety, major airports, commercial space regulation, and security and hazardous materials safety,” the letter states.


  9. Moreover, the FAA has been using race-based assessments to screen employment applicants and has been circulating race-related buzzwords to help minority candidates rise to the top of the list.

    During its “Year of Inclusion,” in 2023, the agency held a three-day Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility symposium that included training on “Understanding the Impact of DEIA,” “Overcoming Biases Using Exponential Mindsets,” and “Unmasking Unconscious Bias.” Notably, the symposium ended on the same day that the Supreme Court struck down the affirmative action embedded in the admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

    “The FAA undertook these efforts even though it has acknowledged for more than a decade that ‘[t]here is a trade-off between diversity . . . and predicted job performance/outcomes,’” the letter adds.

    The FAA faced several problems last year when agency officials were focusing more on DEI than safety, Kobach noted. Last January, for example, thousands of flights across the U.S. were delayed because of a critical system failure. Even more alarmingly, the number of near collisions involving commercial airlines more than doubled over the past decade.

    More than 2.9 million airline passengers take 45,000 flights per day, according to the FAA. With these numbers in mind, Kobach told the agency that “failure is not an option.”

    “Given the recent FAA failure that delayed thousands of flights last January and the recent spike in near aircraft collisions, we are very worried that the FAA has lost sight of its primary goal – ensuring the safety of American skies,” Kobach said in a statement on Wednesday. “American lives depend on the FAA hiring the most-qualified aviation experts.”

    The Republican attorneys general who joined Kobach in signing the letter include Steve Marshall of Alabama, Treg Taylor of Alaska, Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Todd Rokita of Indiana, Brenna Bird of Iowa, Lynn Fitch of Mississippi, Andrew Bailey of Missouri, Austin Knudsen of Montana, and Ken Paxton of Texas.

  10. A government run entity is not efficient, capable, and effective? Shocking. But let’s throw more money at them and give them more power. That will fix things, right?

  11. Setting aside all the invective (yea, I know, this is the Internet!) — how often does DCA run departures on Runway 4??? pre-Covid, I was in and out of that airport a minimum of 2x/month for several years, and I think I clocked ONE arrival and ONE departure on runway 33 (the other diagonal that heads out over the Pentagon, but NEVER on 4, and I’ve only rarely seen turboprops use 4 – never a jet. (and let me say taking off on an Airbus A319 on 33 is…. sporty!)

  12. New ATC rest rules have been finalized and are to be required starting in 90 days. The Biden Admin is hoping that better mandatory rest periods for ATC and hiring a couple of thousand more ATC will help with safety.

  13. @GUWonder – rest may be needed but there’s no indication this issue was rest-related, though may have been training-related. Should mean more ATC shortages, and more slot waiver extensions perhaps despite moving EWR approach control to PHL rather than N90 Tracon.

  14. @Sean – runway 4 isn’t frequently used for departures, it’s the short runway and there’s not many small aircraft nowadays

  15. Kris Kobach has made a career out of being a culture warrior troll, participating in the GoFund Me build the wall fraud scam, leaking people’s SSNs, and being too crazy to win the governorship or a Senate seat in very red Kansas. Anything he says is simply for him to raise and take money off of angry people and needs to be taken with a small mountain of salt.

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