WASHINGTON – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt announced today that effective immediately the FAA will place an additional air traffic controller on the midnight shift at 27 control towers around the country that are currently staffed with only one controller during that time.
The FAA is taking this action after an incident this morning 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 (TRACON) and landed safely. The controller, who was out of communication for approximately 16 minutes, has been suspended while the FAA investigates.
"I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable," said Secretary LaHood. "The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our number one priority and I am committed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected."
“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.
FAA Administrator Babbitt and National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi are launching a nationwide Call to Action on air traffic control safety and professionalism. Next week, with members of their senior leadership teams, they will visit air traffic facilities around the country to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards.
The Call to Action will also include an independent review of the FAA’s air traffic control training curriculum and qualifications and the expansion of NATCA’s Professional Standards committees.
The FAA is currently conducting a review of the air traffic control system to look at issues of staffing and scheduling. As a result, the FAA is investigating additional incidents involving unresponsive air traffic controllers:
• 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.
Changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts.
In the latest incident, the controller was watching a movie on a DVD player early Sunday morning while on duty at a regional radar center.
In a 24/7 industry like aviation, fatigue is a fact of life.
NATCA and the FAA are in agreement that fatigue and scheduling must be addressed and I applaud and thank Administrator Babbitt for taking quick and decisive action today.