Third air traffic controller fired for sleeping

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 26, 2011 12:57pm EDT

An unused air traffic controller's phone sits on counter in University Park Airport's empty control tower, unstaffed due to the U.S. Federal budget standoff, in State College, Pennsylvania, March 15, 2011. REUTERS/Andy Sullivan

An unused air traffic controller's phone sits on counter in University Park Airport's empty control tower, unstaffed due to the U.S. Federal budget standoff, in State College, Pennsylvania, March 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Andy Sullivan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A third air traffic controller has been fired for sleeping on the job, even as some say naps should be allowed during working hours to enhance controller attentiveness.

The termination of the controller followed several highly publicized incidents that have included sleeping controllers, an unresponsive controller watching a movie in Ohio, and an aborted landing of first lady Michelle Obama's plane at Andrews Air Force Base.

The Boeing Field controller in Seattle fired this week fell asleep twice in recent months, once in January and once on April 11, according to a Federal Aviation Administration statement.

In the wake of the various revelations there have been several recent regulation changes, including new guidelines for off-hours, limits on shift swapping, and increased staffing of FAA managers during late night and early morning hours.

A member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Monday that regulators also should consider allowing controlled napping during working hours to combat fatigue.

Mark Rosekind, a fatigue expert, told reporters that scientific studies show short naps can improve performance and alertness.

Rosekind noted that controller fatigue has been an issue raised in policy debates since the early 1980s.

An air traffic controllers group recommended this year that the FAA permit naps on certain shifts, including overnight when more than one controller is on duty.

The FAA has considered permitting naps for controllers but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood opposes the idea, saying "we're not going to pay controllers to nap."

"My scientific side would say that controlled napping, effective use of caffeine and every science-based strategy that works should be included and available," Rosekind said. "Every one of those, at minimum, should be on the table for consideration."

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh and John Crawley; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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Comments (11)
Someone will have to die before LaHood wakes-up! On the FAA’s website in it’s mission statement, under “Our Values,” it says “Innovation is our signature. We foster creativity and vision to provide solutions beyond today’s boundaries.”

Well, unless of course, it means controllers should be allowed to take a nap to improve performance and alertness. I mean, LaHood has to draw the line somewhere!

Apr 26, 2011 1:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Karen_Swim wrote:
This is not a new issue, but a long standing problem. Rather than firing air traffic controllers, it would be more productive to address and resolve the root problem. When you combine the night shift with an extremely stressful job that requires a meticulous attention to detail and an alert mind, you are taxing the parameters of human capacity. Even those who have synced their circadian rhythms to the shift will find it difficult to remain alert without a steady dose of stimulation and/or rest. Cost should not be an issue here, human lives are at stake. Let’s hope the NTSB finally puts common sense and safety first to redesign the system.

Apr 26, 2011 2:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
2good wrote:
Where are the union protesters? Sleeping is something we all do, he can’t help himself. What next hold your breath until the planes land. I am shocked he is getting no support. I bet he wishes he was in the Teachers union.

Apr 26, 2011 2:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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