About Time

FAA Ends Solo Controller Overnight Shifts

How many times do air traffic controllers have to fall asleep before the FAA puts two people on night shifts at a time? The answer is apparently five. A Nevada air traffic controller allegedly fell asleep early Wednesday as a medical flight carrying a sick patient tried to land. It's the fifth such incident this year. A controller supervisor was suspended last month after he admitted to napping in the tower at Reagan International Airport, and a Seattle tower controller was suspended Monday after he fell asleep. Now the FAA has called for an immediate end to the practice of putting one controller on duty during overnight shifts. “I just got off the phone with the FAA and told the administrator that I am sick of this,” said Jon D. Rockefeller (D-W .Va.), who chairs the Senate transportation committee. Members of the House transportation committee said they planned a meeting with FAA leaders Thursday to discuss controller errors. That meeting may take a different tone, with committee chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla) criticizing the decision to double overnight staff: “Only in the federal government would you double up on workers, averaging $161,000 per year in salary and benefits, that aren’t doing their job.”