Is a missing air traffic controller a big deal?

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘yostinator’

Last week we had more air traffic controller news out of the DC area than we’ve had since 1981. If you were still under your rock, the issue was an unresponsive tower where the lone employee had fallen asleep. The TBD article does a good job of doing a matter-of-fact reporting of how such a thing is handled with no apparent drama – one landing pilot didn’t even intend to report it. But you can’t be blamed for wondering – is that just overly-neutral reporting or is this really sort of a “meh” incident?

I’m a big fan of Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot column over at Salon and he weighed in on this issue yesterday. So, was it dangerous? “sort of, maybe, it depends, probably not.”

The TBD article opens with what seems like a kind of scandalous line. “Two airliners landed at Reagan National Airport without clearance from the airport tower because they were unable to raise anyone there.” But Smith says this went down just as it should and in the safest possible way.

If a plane is on a published approach procedure toward a particular runway, nine times in 10 the safest course of action is to continue that approach and land on that runway.

The whole piece is quick and worth a read. It jibes with my limited knowledge as a relative of a lightweight craft pilot and I share his largest takeaway from the matter: “Open to debate is the wisdom of having but a single tower controller on hand at any point, even during off-peak hours when things are relatively quiet, but that’s a topic for another time.”

Here’s hoping he investigates that topic in the future.

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


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