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Wed, Mar 30, 2011

Pilots Criticized For Landing Without Clearance

Some Say Aircraft Should Have Entered Holding Pattern Or Diverted Rather Than Landing

The pilots  of two airliners which landed at Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA) last week while the lone controller on duty was asleep have come under fire for making the decision to land without clearance. Safety official both in and out of government had said that the decision to land while the aircrews did not know what was happening in the tower was the wrong one.

A report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the FAA's former top lawyer for the eastern region said that landing without a clearance was "clearly inappropriate," and that the notion that the landings were safe and that there was no violation of FARs is "clearly preposterous." Both airliners, an American Airlines 737 and a United Airlines A320 landed safely.

But the attorney, Loretta Alkalay, said the decision to land when the pilot is unable to reach the tower is "absolutely not up to the pilot." Former NTSB member Richard Healing told the paper that he was "more than a little surprised" that the flights were not diverted to nearby BWI or IAD rather than landing without clearance. He said the biggest threat to safety in that situation would have been the potential of other planes or vehicles on the runway that the  pilots might not have seen until it was too late. He said it would have been better to inconvenience the passengers than to compromise their safety.

An NTSB spokesperson said over the weekend that the pilots' decision to land was under investigation by the board. A spokesperson for American Airlines said that their pilots followed clearly-defined FAA procedures, and once it was determined that DCA was, for all intents and purposes an uncontrolled airport, the planes did not need clearance to land. Former NTSB chair Mark Rosenker agreed, saying that based on the information he had available that the pilots "acted appropriately."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.ntsb.gov

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