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US aviation chief resigns after air traffic controllers fall asleep on job

Aviation watchdog has ordered that staff double up on graveyard shifts after series of incidents in which controllers were “unresponsive”.

THE HEAD OF the Federal Aviation Administration says the agency’s top official overseeing the nation’s air traffic system has resigned following disclosures of controllers falling asleep on the job.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement today that Hank Krakowski, the head of the agency’s Air Traffic Organization, has submitted his resignation. FAA’s chief counsel, David Grizzle, will temporarily take over Krakowski’s duties while the agency searches for a replacement.

Babbitt said he is conducting a “top to bottom” review of the FAA’s entire air traffic system. He said recent disclosures of “unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals” have rightly caused the traveling public to question the system.

In addition, the FAA has announced that “effective immediately”, an additional air traffic controller will be added to the midnight shift at the 27 control towers around the US that are currently staffed with only one person during that graveyard shift.

The statement from the FAA said that the action was prompted by an incident this week in which a controller fell asleep and was out of communication for 16 minutes while a medical flight carrying an ill patient was trying to land at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The controller who fell asleep on the job has been suspended while the incident is beign investigated.

Washington’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said:

I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable. The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our number one priority and I am commiteed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected… We absolutely cannot and will not tolerate sleeping on the job.

Other incidents being investigated by the FAA involving “unresponsive” air traffic controllers include:

  • An incident in which a controller fell asleep during a morning shift last week in a regional Seattle airport – the same employee is already in trouble for falling asleep TWICE during an early evening shift in January this year.
  • An incident in which two controller failed to hand off control of a departing aircraft to the controllers of another airport where the plane was inbound. This incident happened in the early hours of the morning of 29 March last.

- additional reporting by AP

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