FAA Puts The Kibosh On Traffic-Reversing Operation That Almost Led To Mid-Air Plane Collision

When I’m in an airplane, I have no idea what air traffic control is doing or how they manage to make sure every single plane gets off the ground or lands without running into each other — but I know it’s a tricky dance. And to make it  less tricky, the Federal Aviation Administration is banning airport air traffic controllers from using a method of running things that contributed to last week’s incident at Ronald Reagan National Airport where three planes almost collided in mid-air.

The operation is called traffic-reversing, and allows for controllers to direct some planes to both take off and land from the opposite of the usual direction. That’s going bye-bye, said FAA officials, and new procedures will be in place within a month. The operation will only be allowed during emergencies from now on, according to the Associated Press.

In last week’s incident, three US Airways commuter jets got way too close after a communication failure that cleared two outbound flights to head up while another plane was coming in to land. The FAA said they wouldn’t have crashed anyway, as they were at different altitudes and headings, but it was closer than is allowed by the agency’s rules. The incoming flight was redirected.

“In light of these preliminary findings, out of an abundance of caution, there are some immediate steps we are taking,” FAA Chief Operating Officer J. David Grizzle wrote in a memo. He added that in the future managers will not be multitasking while handling complicated air traffic, which was apparently part of the problem in that case.

The change shouldn’t cause delays or disruptions at any airports, as the flow of landing and taking off traffic usually changes directions multiple times throughout the day. Directing only a few flights to land in the opposite way, however, won’t happen anymore.

FAA suspends operation that led to near-collision [Associated Press]