A Boeing 737 out of Miami and an Airbus A320 from Chicago landed at Reagan National Airport very early Wednesday morning without contacting anyone in the tower, but not for lack of trying, the Washington Post reported. The inbound flights were handed off from Potomac TRACON to the tower at Reagan National shortly after midnight. When the tower failed to respond, at least one flight requested assistance from Potomac TRACON. Controllers there used a shout line to call over to Reagan Tower. The shout line allows them to speak directly from a loudspeaker in the tower at Reagan National. No one responded. When a pilot asked one TRACON controller why the tower was empty, the controller reportedly replied, "Well, I'm going to take a guess and say that the controller got locked out. I've heard of it happening before." And, apparently, it has, although later reports Wednesday said the FAA was investigating whether the lone controller on duty, a supervisor, simply fell asleep. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood responded to the report by ordering the FAA to assign a second controller to the downtown Washington airport on the graveyard shift and told the FAA to investigate the incident. "It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space," he said. "I have also asked FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to study staffing levels at other airports around the country."
According to the Washington Post, the incident is under review by the NTSB and represents the second time in two years that the tower at Reagan National has been unresponsive. The paper cites an unnamed source who said the other episode involved a controller who stepped out of the tower without his swipe-card pass key and wasn't able to get back in. In Wednesday's case, the two aircraft self-announced and landed with assistance from controllers "elsewhere." They then made their way to their appropriate gates with the assistance of their airlines.