Sleeping air traffic controllers get federal wake-up call

Five sleeping air traffic controller incidents get Feds to bring in more controllers at 27 airports

After yet another incident where an air traffic controller fell asleep on an overnight shift, causing airliners to divert to other airports and raising general havoc, the FAA said today it will add controllers to 27 airports currently staffed by one person at night.

One has to wonder what took so long?

"Air traffic controllers are responsible for making sure aircraft safely reach their destinations. We absolutely cannot and will not tolerate sleeping on the job. This type of unprofessional behavior does not meet our high safety standards," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in a statement.

The FAA added that it and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association will next week  launch what they called a nationwide Call to Action on air traffic control safety and professionalism. 

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The FAA is investigating a number of incidents involving unresponsive air traffic controllers:

  • An incident just today at Reno-Tahoe International Airport when a controller fell asleep while a medical flight carrying an ill patient was trying to land. The medical flight pilot was in communication with the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control and landed safely. The controller, who was out of communication for approximately 16 minutes, has been suspended while the FAA investigates.
  • The FAA has suspended an air traffic controller at Boeing Field/King County International Airport (BFI) in Seattle, WA for falling asleep during his morning shift on April 11, 2011. The controller was monitoring local traffic in the airport tower cab while two other controllers worked arriving and departing aircraft. The FAA is investigating this incident. The controller is already facing disciplinary action for falling asleep on two separate occasions during the early evening shift on January 6, 2011.
  • The FAA has also suspended two controllers for an incident that occurred during the early morning hours of March 29, 2011 at Preston Smith International Airport (LBB) in Lubbock, TX. During the midnight shift, the Lubbock controllers failed to hand off control of a departing aircraft to the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center. It also took repeated attempts for a controller at the Fort Worth Air Traffic Control Center to reach the Lubbock controllers to hand off an inbound aircraft.
  • In March, two airliners had to land at Washington D.C's Reagan National Airport near Washington without air control help because the air traffic person was apparently asleep.
  • This month another controller was "found intentionally sleeping" in the radar room during a midnight shift on February 19 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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