FAA vows to fire a second sleeping air traffic controller
The FAA says it will fire an air traffic controller in Knoxville, Tenn., for intentionally taking a five-hour nap while on the job. Seven planes landed safely while the controller slept during the midnight shift on Feb. 19. "The FAA will not tolerate this type of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior," the agency said in a statement, though a union official said staffing levels may be part of the problem. http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/stor ... 45843484/1
The Federal Aviation Administration said the unnamed controller slept for five hours intentionally during the midnight shift on Feb. 19 in Knoxville, Tenn.
It's the second incident in as many months that an FAA controller fell asleep during a midnight shift. A supervisor working alone at Washington's Reagan National Airport fell asleep for at least 24 minutes shortly after midnight on March 23.
In the incident at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, a controller working in a radar room responsible for guiding planes in a roughly 50-mile radius around the airport was unresponsive for five hours, the FAA said.
Another controller working at the airport's tower was able to monitor the seven aircraft that flew into the airspace during that time, the agency said in a statement. All of the aircraft landed safely.
"The FAA will not tolerate this type of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior," the statement said.
The agency is conducting a nationwide review of staffing at air-traffic facilities during midnight shifts as a result of the recent incidents.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association union is representing the unnamed controller in disciplinary proceedings, spokesman Doug Church said. The FAA said it is "taking steps to fire" the controller, but has not done so yet.
After the incident last month at Reagan National, the union demanded that additional controllers be added at towers where a single person worked on midnight shifts as a safety measure to limit the risks that a controller could fall asleep.
"Once again, we've got a midnight shift issue," Church said. "Those are very concerning to us. We believe that staffing always needs to be what's looked at, here and at other facilities."
Typically, air-traffic facilities are designed with enough flexibility that controllers in a tower can handle traffic far outside an airport. In most cases at small and midsize airports, controllers are trained to handle both landings and takeoffs as well as higher altitude traffic.
In the incident at Reagan National, a controller admitted to investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board that he had inadvertently fallen asleep. He is on paid leave while the agency investigates.
Two airliners landed at the airport without a landing clearance after their pilots were advised by another controller in a facility in nearby Virginia that they could touch down using rules for airports without towers.
Afterward, the FAA told controllers that they should offer pilots the chance to divert to another airport rather than land at a major commercial airport without a tower controller. The FAA also added a second controller on the midnight shift at the security sensitive airport, which is only a few miles from the White House and Congress.
The NTSB and the FAA are also investigating a separate incident in which a controller requested that a Southwest Airlines pilot fly close to a small private plane near Orlando on March 27.