We recently shared a story about a flight from Chicago to Reagan International Airport that landed without the assistance of an air traffic controller because the controller had fallen asleep on the job. There have now been additional reports of air traffic controllers napping on the job. While fortunately these lapses did not result in any airplane crashes they highlight what may be a more systemic problem that could undermine the safety of all those who rely on the airlines for transportation.
In an incident on Wednesday to at the Reno Tahoe International Airport, the tower went silent for 16 minutes. During that time a medical flight carrying an ill patient was attempting to land. The flight was able to initiate communication with another facility and land safely. On Monday, a traffic controller in Seattle was suspended for napping during his shift.
Many traffic towers have only one controller on duty during the overnight hours, but in response to Wednesday's incident in Reno/Tahoe incident the FAA has said that it will add additional controller at 27 of it towers. While this ad-hoc response to what seems to be an endemic problem may be a good first step, we will be waiting to see if policy-makers and regulators take a comprehensive approach.
Last week we shared the story about how a United Airlines flight lost power shortly after takeoff and had to be guided back to the airport by the air traffic controller as the pilots were basically flying blind. It is troubling to consider the potential tragedy that could have occurred if the air traffic controller in that situation had not been awake and alert to assist the hobbled aircraft.
Source: Reuters News "More air controllers fall asleep on the job: FAA" April 13, 2011