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FAA To Change Air Traffic Controller Schedule After Another Falls Asleep On The Job

Tracy Bloom |
April 16, 2011 | 2:39 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

Miami airport air traffic control building (creative commons)
Miami airport air traffic control building (creative commons)
Federal officials said Saturday that the work schedules of air traffic controllers will soon change following several instances where controllers fell asleep on the job.

The government announced on Saturday that yet another air traffic controller fell asleep on duty, marking the seventh time that has happened this year. The air traffic controller was suspended, the FAA said.

CNN reported

The incident occurred at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center during the midnight shift early Saturday morning, two days before the FAA is expected to conduct meetings on air traffic control safety and professionalism, the FAA reported.

According to a preliminary review of air traffic tapes, the controller did not miss any calls from aircraft and there was no operational impact, the agency said in a statement. The incident was reported to a manager by another controller, the FAA said. There were 12 controllers and two managers on duty.

All of the instances of air traffic controllers falling asleep while working happened during the midnight shift. Most of the incidents appear to be accidental, but it appears at least one controller fell asleep on purpose.

USA Today reported: "None of the incidents has come close to triggering an accident, but the cases have undermined public confidence in the system and prompted widespread criticism."

As a result, the FAA will soon implement changes to controller schedules.

"We are taking important steps today that will make a real difference in fighting air traffic controller fatigue. But we know we'll need to do more," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.

In a statement, Babbitt said scheduling practices that could be contributing to air traffic controller fatigue will be prohibited. The news rules are expected to be enacted within 72 hours. Babbit said on Wednesday that an additional controller would be placed on the midnight shift at 27 control towers across the U.S. Currently, only one controller works that shift.

"We are taking swift action to ensure the safety of our aviation system," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Saturday. "There is no excuse for air traffic controllers to be sleeping on the job. We will do everything we can to put an end to this."

The head of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, Hank Krakowski, resigned on Thursday amid revelations that several air traffic controllers had fallen asleep during their shift this year came to light.



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