FAA launches new safety initiative
On April 13, an air traffic controller working the midnight shift at Reno-Tahoe International Airport fell asleep while on duty. For 16 minutes, the individual was unresponsive to a medical flight pilot’s attempts to make contact during landing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has suspended the air traffic controller and continues to investigate the issue.
No injuries were reported in the incident, and the pilot was able to land safely with the help of the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control.
Nevertheless, the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation have expressed their dismay at situations such as this. “I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.” The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our No.1 priority, and I am committed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected.”
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt shares LaHood’s sentiments. “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,” he remarked.
To prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, Babbitt and National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi have started a national campaign to promote air traffic control safety and professionalism. Dubbed Call to Action, Babbit, Rinaldi and other key leaders will begin touring air traffic control facilities around the nation next week. They hope to facilitate open dialogue and increase professionalism through their visits.
Furthermore, the Call to Action will evaluate the FAA’s air traffic control training program and the development of NATCA’s Professional Standards teams.
The FAA is also investigating similar incidents of unresponsive traffic controllers and has decided to hire more professionals, doubling staffing levels during the midnight shift at air traffic control towers nationwide.
U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), who serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opposes this measure. “Only in the federal government would you double up on workers, averaging $161,000 per year in salary and benefits, that aren’t doing their job,” Mica said in a statement. “This increase in staffing, when there is little to no traffic, also misdirects our resources and focus away from congested air traffic control facilities.”