FAA Adds Controllers after Napping Incidents

By | April 15, 2011
Longitudinal separation (air traffic control)

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The FAA announced it intends to add more air traffic controllers to the midnight shift at 27 airports that are currently staffed by a lone controller. This follows the suspension of controllers at Washington National, Reno, Lubbock, and Seattle for falling asleep on the job. The situation prompted Henry Krakowski, who oversaw the ATC system, to resign over the situation.

In the Washington incident, two airliners landed without assistance after the controller fell asleep, and many discovered for the first time that only one individual was on duty.

We don’t claim to be an expert on the issue of air traffic control. But is this extra controller merely a kneejerk reaction? Is it necessary based on the volume? Can we use technology to solve this problem? Next generation air traffic control systems aside, why can’t we have some central monitoring location backing up all these single night people?

How about a lesson from the train community? A Dead Man’s Switch. The controller has to press a button every ten minutes, or an audible alarm starts in the tower, followed by, some minutes later, dispatching someone to the Tower.

People have said that it is horrible for a controller to fall asleep on duty, and it is. But instead of having twice as many people, should we not research the issues of why they are falling asleep? How we can prevent them? How another party might take control if they become unresponsive?