Sunday, April 17, 2011
|I don’t know when I’ve ever been madder. I’m outraged about this.|
United States officials have unveiled new plans which require air traffic controllers to have longer rest periods between shifts after a spate of controllers fell asleep while on duty at airports across the country. Announcing the plans, transport secretary Ray LaHood said he was “outraged” by the incidents.
The new plans, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. government agency responsible for aviation, said would be implemented immediately, come after another controller was suspended this week when they fell asleep while directing aircraft near Miami. The incident was the sixth this year; controllers have fallen asleep in Nevada, Washington D.C., and Tennessee. In one incident, two commercial passenger jets landed without any direction from the control tower because the controller on duty had fallen asleep.
LaHood said controllers would be required to have a minimum of nine hours rest between shifts, an increase of an hour, and more supervisors would be required during night shifts, and they will be restricted in what shifts they can swap with colleagues. “I don’t know when I’ve ever been madder,” LaHood said in a television interview on Fox News Sunday. “We’re not going to stand by and let that happen.”
“We’ve taken steps, as of this morning, to begin changing schedules for controllers, to change schedules for managers, and to make sure that controllers cannot switch in and out of their schedules in order for the convenience of them if they are not well-rested,” LaHood said. He vowed that he would ensure any controllers falling asleep on duty would face consequences. “On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps,” he said. “We’re not going to allow that.”
Earlier this week, Hank Krakowski, the head of air traffic organization at the FAA, resigned from his position after LaHood said the crisis in U.S. control towers was “unacceptable”, and vowed to resolve the issue. “I am totally outraged by these incidents,” LaHood said. “This is absolutely unacceptable. The American public trusts us to run a safe system.”
The results of a study on how fatigue affects controllers will soon be published and the FAA may make changes. But LaHood insisted controllers had to “take personal responsibility” for the safety of aircraft over the U.S., and they should not make irresponsible shift changes which will make them tired and put passengers at risk. He said all the controllers involved in the incidents had been suspended, and could ultimately be sacked. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a labor union representing controllers in the U.S., said the FAA had their “full support” in implementing the new steps to tackle fatigue.