The FAA said this week air traffic controllers must temporarily stop using a procedure that allows airplanes to land and take off in the opposite direction from normal, after a mix-up with three commuter jets in Washington on July 31. However, the procedure was not at fault, according to the FAA, but a communication lapse between the tower at Reagan National Airport and the Potomac tracon. “This incident should not have happened,” FAA chief operating officer David Grizzle said in a memo (PDF) to FAA acting administrator Michael Huerta. “At no time were the aircraft on a head-to-head course and the aircraft remained at different altitudes.”
The procedure for “opposite direction operations” is used at airports around the country, Grizzle said, when an airplane is cleared to land or depart using a runway in the opposite direction from the established flow for the field. The procedures can be used in a variety of situations, such as noise mitigation, weather, or cargo operations. However, there is “no standard protocol” in place, which Grizzle said may have contributed to the miscommunication at DCA. The use of these procedures is suspended until a standard protocol can be developed and implemented, which should take a month or less, he said. Grizzle also said that one of the pilots in the DCA incident had reported low fuel, but the FAA found the aircraft in fact had plenty of fuel.