Reggie Dunlop, an airline captain for 15 years, explains what happens when a pilot doesn't have communication with the airport's control tower.
A flight from Chicago was one of two airliners on Wednesday that landed at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport without control tower clearance because the air traffic supervisor was asleep, safety and aviation officials said.
The supervisor had fallen asleep, said an official speaking on condition of anonymity. The supervisor was the only controller scheduled for duty in the tower about midnight Tuesday when the incident occurred.
The National Transportation Safety Board is gathering information on the occurrence to decide whether to open a formal investigation, spokesman Peter Knudson said.
The pilots of American Airlines flight 1012 and United Airlines flight 628T were unable to reach the tower, but they were in communication with a regional air traffic control facility in Warrenton, Va., about 40 miles from the airport, Knudsen said. Controllers at the regional facility were unable to raise anyone at the airport tower by phone, safety officials said.
The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement saying, "The FAA is looking into staffing issues and whether existing procedures were followed appropriately."
As a result of the allegations, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed that two air traffic controllers be on duty at Reagan National Airport late at night. He also ordered the FAA administrator to study tower staffing at other airports around the country, a statement read.