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US Airways planes were not on collision course, FAA chief says

August 02, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Three aircraft near the nation’s capital flew closer than allowed to each otherbecause of a miscommunication by air traffic controllers, federal officials said Thursday, but they insisted that the craft were never on a head-to-head course.

At a news conference in Washington, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, told reporters that “there was loss of separation” among three aircraft around Ronald Reagan National Airport on Tuesday, but the officials disputed reports that the craft were on a collision course.

“There was a miscommunication,” LaHood said. “That miscommunication should not have happened. The FAA has launched a full investigation. We will get to the bottom of this and we will take all appropriate action.”

“At no point were the three aircraft on a head-to-head course,” Huerta said. “They were not on a collision course.”

The incident, first reported by the Washington Post, has renewed questions about the air traffic control system, especially at the high-profile Reagan National Airport, which serves the nation’s capital. “We will take a back seat to no one” when it comes to safety, LaHood insisted.

But the officials agree that the planes came closer to each other than allowed by federal rules. Federal guidelines require that commercial jets remain separated by at least 1,000 vertical feet and 3.5 lateral miles.

One plane was landing and two were taking off when officials had to change the directions of travel because of a storm.

The landing plane came within 800 vertical feet and about nine-tenths of a lateral mile of one departing plane, and 800 vertical feet and 2.4 lateral miles of the second plane, officials said. Huerta said the planes were on different headings at different altitudes and would not have hit each other.

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Join Michael on Google+. Email: michael.muskal@latimes.com

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