Summary of the July 31, 2012 incident:
Safety is the FAA’s top priority. The agency is investigating an incident that took place just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, when the Potomac TRACON initiated a change in the traffic flow at Reagan National Airport (DCA) due to bad weather developing south of the airport.
“At no point were the three aircraft on a head-to-head course. They were not on a collision course,” said Acting FAA Administrator Huerta. “The two departing aircraft came within these margins in relation to a plane that was landing. But, at no point were any of the planes headed directly for one another.”
DCA had been landing and departing aircraft on Runway 1, from the south to the north. Due to the bad weather developing, the TRACON was reversing operations at the airport to land and depart aircraft from the north to the south on Runway 19.
During the switchover of operations, there was a miscommunication between a manager at the TRACON and two traffic management coordinators at the DCA tower. The miscommunication should not have happened. FAA safety officials are investigating why the miscommunication occurred and will take action as appropriate.
The miscommunication led to a loss of the required separation between two regional jets (Chautauqua Airlines 3071 and Republic Airlines 3467) departing from Runway 1 and a regional jet (Republic Airlines 3329) inbound for Runway 19.
An air traffic controller at DCA tower immediately realized that a loss of separation was occurring and acted quickly to correct the situation. The loss of separation should not have occurred. However, at no point were the three aircraft on a head to head course.
Both departing aircraft were cleared for takeoff while Republic Airlines 3329 was inbound. At the closest proximity, Chautauqua Airlines 3071 and Republic Airlines 3329 were separated by .82 nautical miles (lateral) and 800 feet (vertical) as Chautauqua Airlines 3071 continued its climb. The closest proximity of the two Republic Airlines aircraft was 2.07 nautical miles (lateral) and 800 feet (vertical) – both aircraft were moving away from each other.