The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 that it has suspended another air traffic controller for falling asleep for at least 16 minutes while on duty early Wednesday morning at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO).
At the same time, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has expressed outrage over these incidents, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt, said that air traffic controllers will be added immediately to the night shifts at 27 additional airports in the U.S. which had formerly only had one ATC agent on duty, as reported on Thursday, April 14, 2011 by the Los Angeles Times, ABC News Radio, USA Today, the Salt Lake City Tribune, and other media sources.
The incident in Reno is just the latest example of FAA workplace lapses, and follows a similar situation less than one month ago at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) early on Wednesday, March 23, 2011. In that case, a supervisory flight controller, Dan Creedon, with more than 20 years service with the agency was suspended.
The bigger issue of why the FAA allowed people is such critical jobs to be working alone was answered yesterday by Mr. LaHood and Babbitt. If the Reno case did nothing else, but to serve as a tipping point, then it has brought about positive changes, as shown in the attached video clip and slide show.
Airports which now have added overnight staffing include Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR), Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport (ONT), San Diego International (SAN), Sacramento International (SMF), and Reno-Tahoe International (RNO) where the latest sleep incident occurred.
The situation in Reno was particularly troubling because it involved a medical flight that was trying to land, carrying an ill patient. After unsuccessfully attempting to contract Reno air traffic control, the pilot, who was in communication with the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), landed safely.
There have been other incidents as well. The FAA 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. That same controller was already facing disciplinary action for falling asleep on two separate prior occasions during the early evening shift on January 6, 2011.
The agency also suspended two controllers for an incident that occurred during the early morning hours of March 29, 2011 at Lubbock 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 (ZFW). 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.
All of these cases brought pressure to take effective and immediate steps to preserve the integrity of the air traffic system, restore public confidence, and avoid future embarrassment. Suspensions alone would not solve the problem.
As Secretary LaHood stated at a press conference yesterday, “I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable. 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.”
Extra staffing would appear to be a logical solution when lives and aircraft safety are concerned.
Tell us your thoughts. Please leave comments below or by email and subscribe to get future updates. There is also expanded coverage of other recent news articles. You may also wish to follow our dispatches as the News Analysis Examiner.