JetBlue, Southwest planes nearly collide – experts warn of air traffic control fatigue

Two planes were cleared on a collision path at Washington Reagan National Airport on Thursday. Thankfully, air traffic controllers got both aircraft to stop before disaster struck.

JetBlue flight 1554 from Washington to Boston was cleared for takeoff, while Southwest flight 2937 to Orlando was cleared to cross the same runway.

The JetBlue plane had already begun its takeoff roll as the Southwest jet approached its path.

Air traffic controllers can be heard in a recording of the incident warning both planes to stop.

“JetBlue 1554, stop,” one controller said. “Southwest stop! Southwest 2937, stop!” another said.

In statements to USA TODAY, both airlines acknowledged the incident and said they would cooperate with any follow-up investigations.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will investigate.

Issues in air traffic control

It’s just the latest in a string of close calls that experts say highlight the narrow margin of safety with an overworked pool of air traffic controllers.

A panel previously established by the FAA released a report Friday warning that air traffic controllers were at high risk of fatigue and encouraging the agency to update its scheduling policies to address the issue.

Under new rules that FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said will go into effect in 90 days, the agency will increase the rest period for air traffic controllers to 10 hours between shifts, up from nine, and will require a minimum 12-hour rest period before midnight shifts.

Whitaker said in a briefing about the report with journalists on Friday that the agency is also aware of understaffing throughout the system. Both problems contribute to concerns at the agency but are being handled separately.

“We’re understaffed throughout the population of controllers,” he said. “We have been doing everything within our power to increase controller hiring.”

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: JetBlue, Southwest planes almost collide at DC National Airport