U.S. probing why Washington airport tower went silent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials said they are looking into why two passenger planes were unable to communicate with the air traffic control tower at Reagan Washington National Airport before landing early on Wednesday.

Both carriers landed without incident after failing to establish communications with the control tower, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

“The pilots were in contact with air traffic controllers at the Potomac Tracon, which hands off flights to the tower shortly before they land, and both aircraft landed safely,” the FAA said.

The FAA said it was looking into staffing issues and whether existing procedures were followed appropriately.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Department was assigning additional staff to the tower at the airport just four miles from the White House.

“Today I directed the FAA to place two air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport’s control tower on the midnight shift,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space.”

Shortly after midnight, an American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth aborted its landing after failing to make contact with the tower, National Transpiration Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said in an interview.

Knudson said the pilots then contacted controllers at the regional air traffic center.

The regional controllers tried unsuccessfully to reach the tower by phone, Knudson said

“Tracon cleared the aircraft to land as if the tower were unstaffed,” he said.

A few minutes later, a United Airlinesflight from Chicago also got no answer from the tower and was directed to follow the same procedure, Knudson said.

“We’re gathering information about this incident. Based on what we, find we’ll determine whether to open a formal investigation,” Knudson said.

Spokesmen for the airlines were not immediately reachable for comment.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Todd Eastham and Eric Walsh)

U.S. probing why Washington airport tower went silent