Tower Asleep at the Switch

When American Airlines Flight 1900 could not raise the tower at Reagan International Airport, the controller at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach tries to help.

Here are some highlights….

Potomac: “Just so you’re aware, the tower is apparently not manned. We’ve made a few phone calls. No one’s answered. … So you can expect to go in as an uncontrolled airport.”
American 1900: “Is there a reason it’s not manned?”
Potomac: “I’m going to take a guess and say that the controller got locked out. I’ve heard of this happening before.”

Two airliners had to conduct unassisted landings because the only person pulling the over night shift in the tower has fallen asleep. Authorities have suspended the controller (a supervisor) while the incident is investigated.

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt said.

“As a former airline pilot, I am personally outraged that this controller did not meet his responsibility to help land these two airplanes,. I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public.”

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed FAA to launch a nationwide study of airport tower staffing. He also directed that at least two controllers be on duty at night at Reagan, which is located just across the Potomac River from Washington in Northern Virginia.

“It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space,” LaHood said.

The head of the union that represents air traffic controllers praised LaHood’s actions, saying changes in staffing are needed.

American Grounds MD-80 Fleet

If you have a ticket on American Airlines today you might want to hit the book shop.

You’re not going anywhere soon.

American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, canceled 200 flights today to re-inspect wiring in Boeing Co. MD-80s after federal regulators raised questions during a maintenance audit. American had previously complied with the directive but a recent the FAA audit called documentation into question.

The grounding in voluntary and represents about 9% of American’s fleet. It is a response to an Air Worthiness Directive issued by the FAA. AMR, the parent company of American has issued the following statement.

“We are reinspecting the MD-80s to make sure the wiring is installed and secured exactly according to the directive.”

The inspection deals with spacers and positioning of wire bundles. The exact function of the wiring was not disclosed and does not pose a safety of flight issue.

The FAA issues Airworthiness Directives on a regular basis to alert carriers of potential problems before they effect safety of flight. American’s action today represents a pro-active response to the FAA’s increased scrutiny following the recent grounding of the Southwest Airlines grounding of its 737 fleet.

American predicts that the inspection will be completed today and the aircraft will be returning to service throughout the day.

Within the industry the MD-80 is referred to as the “Death Trap”. Since entering service in 1980 the manufacturer, McDonald/Douglas and then later Boeing, has modified the design to ensure that deficiencies have been reduced or eliminated.

List of MD-80 mishaps.

NSTB reports on fatal mishaps.