FAA investigating close call between planes after wrong turn on runway at Reagan National Airport

Federal officials are investigating after a taxing plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport made a wrong turn onto a runway where another plane was taking off.

Federal Aviation Administration investigators say the situation happened March 7 around 8:30 a.m.

According to their preliminary review, Republic Airways Flight 4736 crossed Runway 1 without clearance - putting the aircraft in the path of United Airlines Flight 2003, which had just been cleared for takeoff.

An air traffic controller immediately canceled the takeoff clearance for the United flight, the FAA says.

Investigators say the Republic Airways flight had been cleared to cross Runway 4 but turned onto the wrong taxiway.

No injuries were reported. The FAA says it will determine the closest proximity between the two planes as part of their investigation.

On Wednesday, the FAA convened a series of panels to figure out what can be done to improve safety, and why these incidents are more frequent. The panelists included Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen who said these near-misses are serious, and they’re searching for solutions.

"Today is not an academic exercise – six near misses, right?" Nolen said. "I just want to press the point – six near misses. So we have taken these six near misses and treated it as if they hadn't happened. That's why we're here today and what makes us a resilient system."

The stakeholders — pilots, air traffic controllers, and safety regulators — are all in agreement that the system is absolutely safe. They said Tuesday that the data shows that, but it’s also important for people to feel safe too.

There was no specific diagnosis shared about what’s going on as it relates to these close calls on runways but experts who spoke generally think labor shortages, inconsistencies with funding for safety improvements from Congress, and people in the system who have good training, but less experience are all part of the problem.            

"Change and fresh faces are not new but the pace of that change has accelerated, some attrition is stabilizing. Flight attendants, maintainers, career growth in the pilot workforce, that will not slow anytime soon," said Faye Malarkey Black, the head of the Regional Airline Association. "Half of the nation’s pilots meet mandatory retirement requirement in next 10 years. We're going to be training the next generation of pilots. We need to focus on the right start."