The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jet made wrong turn across path of departing flight at National, FAA says

The FAA’s announcement came a day before a Northern Virginia summit in which transportation leaders are expected to address a rise in airport incidents

Reagan National Airport is seen from the Washington Monument last year. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
3 min

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that it is investigating after a regional jet made a wrong turn last week and crossed a runway at Reagan National Airport as a United Airlines flight was preparing to take off.

The incident took place about 8:30 a.m. March 7. It’s the latest of several incidents at U.S. airports in recent weeks to catch the attention of regulators, lawmakers and the airline industry. The FAA’s announcement came a day before a Northern Virginia summit in which transportation leaders are expected to address the issue.

In the most recent event to prompt a federal probe, the FAA said air traffic control at National Airport, just outside D.C., cleared a Republic Airways Embraer 175 to taxi across a runway. At about the same time, another controller cleared a United Airbus A319 to take off from another runway. But the FAA said Republic pilots didn’t follow their clearance, taking the aircraft in a different direction and crossing the runway the United flight was about to use.

The FAA said a controller noticed what was happening and intervened.

The FAA is preparing to gather aviation industry and labor leaders Wednesday to address a series of near-misses that have concerned agency officials and prompted several National Transportation Safety Board investigations. Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen has said flying remains safe, but he wants the summit to lead to “concrete actions” in response to the recent incidents.

After safety breakdowns and outage, FAA leader seeks to reassure public

Republic referred questions about the incident to the NTSB. United referred questions to the safety board and the FAA. The NTSB said the board was monitoring the incident but had not launched a formal investigation.

The FAA said it would determine how close the planes came. Preliminary public data from Flightradar24 indicates it was not as serious as recent near-misses that have attracted scrutiny. The United flight was traveling at 6 knots when the Republic plane crossed the runway. They were more than 2,300 feet apart, according to the data.

The incident unfolded in a few seconds, according to air traffic control recordings archived by

The United pilot read back his clearance to air traffic control, saying “rolling,” but a controller broke in almost immediately.

“United 2003, cancel takeoff clearance,” the controller said.

“Aborting takeoff, aborting takeoff,” the United pilot responded.

The flight was routed in a loop back to the beginning of the runway before taking off and making its journey to Chicago. The Republic flight continued on to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Nolen is scheduled to open Wednesday’s meeting alongside Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy. It is part of a wider effort Nolen launched last month to ensure flying remains safe. It will also include a review of the agency’s data and work to improve internal coordination at the FAA.