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