AeroNewsNet is reporting today that former FAA lawyers are trying to blame the pilots of the American Airlines and United Airlines flights which landed at Washington Reagan Airport last week when the tower controller was asleep.
This rubs me the wrong way. Pilots land aircraft at “uncontrolled” airports everyday. In fact, a vast majority of airports are uncontrolled. While this is unusual for a major airport, it is very common for local and regional airports. Some air traffic control towers, such as the one at my home base of Marion, IL, are part-time — meaning the tower closes at a set time, and the field becomes uncontrolled.
An “uncontrolled” airport is truly a pilot-controlled airport. Meaning pilots talk to each other and work out who’s going to land and who’s going to depart. This system works remarkably well. Pilots can communicate if they’re overtaking another aircraft on final approach, or if they’re taxiing on the active runway to avoid an incident.
I’ve personally flown into uncontrolled airports many times.
The idea that the pilots should have waited is ridiculous. The weather was good, they could see the field. Had there been an emergency in progress, well-lit emergency vehicles would have been apparent on the runway.
The lawyer, Loretta Alkalay, apparently thinks the decision to land is not up to the pilot in command — which it is.
Pilots should not be the scapegoat for a situation like this. The pilots have infinite options at their disposal. The PIC may choose to divert, land, or even declare an emergency (if he/she feels it’s appropriate). The pilots in this situation were absolutely right in landing. They announced their positions, followed the rules, and delivered passengers safely.