Reagan air traffic controller fell asleep, NTSB says
March 24th, 2011
05:18 PM ET

Reagan air traffic controller fell asleep, NTSB says

The air traffic controller involved in the radio silence incident at Reagan National Airport fell asleep as planes approached the airport for landing, the National Transportation Safety Board says.

The controller, who had 20 years experience, 17 of those at Reagan, told officials he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty, according to an NTSB statement. The controller was working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10p-6a.) The NTSB says it has opened an investigation.

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soundoff (335 Responses)
  1. Misha

    The truth of the matter is that a tower controller is not really required when traffic levels are low – as in overnight. The regional radar can keep airplanes separated by 5 minutes or so in the air – which ensures they are not near each other upon landing. Except at busy airports, towers often shut down overnight – and approaches – even in bad weather are still made. But if an airport is going to have a 24 hour tower, then it should have at least two people on duty at all times – if for nothing else than relief.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lanfear

      Relief is closing down for a little bit while it's quiet, and no aircraft are expected to arrive. Having two people would be nice, but certainly not a necessity.

      March 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ejo

    Are air traffic controllers In civil service?

    March 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cowgirl

    Luckily, no one was hurt. What if they guy had a heart attack at 11pm (shift 10pm – 6am), and then there was abnormal traffic issues (weather, etc). Then what? He's dead on the floor and no one can reach him. It's ok if planes crash?

    March 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • airplaaaanes

      it's not like one guy croaks and all the airplanes fly into each other and drop out of the sky... they just go to another airport if it's too dangerous

      March 25, 2011 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. SSampson

    Irony – Ronald Reagan FIRED the air traffic controllers when he was in office – now his airport namesake doesn't have enough

    March 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • American Idiot

      doesn't have enough what?

      March 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. OMG

    We are all human susceptible to mistakes. Certainly, you don't want a mishap like this to be the reason of casualties. But let's keep in mind, that a contingency plan needs to be available at all times notice when such things occur. I believe punishment is necessary, but not where this individual loses his/her job. A better back up plan is much needed! OMG

    March 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lanfear

      A better back up plan? The pilots landed safely. It was stated in another article that there IS a protocol when the pilots cannot make contact with ground control.
      Pretty sure NOTHING needs to change, just the sleepy worker needs a boot out the door.

      March 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rosie

    Isn't it just as much the fault of the staffing arrangement? Asking people to work alone with infrequent landings on into the night has to be enough to put people asleep. How about if he had had a heart attack or other illness late at night alone like that or like the one air controller who locked himself out in forgetting his badge? We were probably trying to pinch pennies.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      I'm curious – how do you feel about people who guard nuclear weapons & fall asleep because nothing has happened for 20 years?

      March 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gene

    "Reagan International, this is United 237 from Orlando, thirty miles out. We have Kilo"

    "...uh, nonow, honey, ...uh uh, I'm too uh tired.. leemee 'lone...gosleep...zzzzzz..."

    March 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Runthemtight*

    Speaking as an Air Traffic Controller who has been doing this job for 28 years my answer and solution is easy. More controllers more time between shifts. By Law the FAA IS Required to have two controllers in the Tower. Once a week I work a nite shift. Off at 2pm and back at 10. This is the problem. The FAA has know about these issues since the early 70's. Since the strike of 81 our numbers are still shy of what staffing was then.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. David

    What happens now? There will be approval for 'two controllers at all times' in control towers at Reagan, all of the state capitols and select resorts favored by holidaying politicians. Think Im joking?

    March 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. NormK

    No need for backup, yet there were multiple layers of backup??? I don't need to ask a pilot...I am one. I never said there was a safety issue. I did, however, point out a breakdown in the system. And not one of the redundancies pointed out would ever replace actual eyes in the tower. A tower at a major airport is staffed 24/7 because it needs to be staffed 24/7. All I'm saying is there should always be at least two on duty. It's inarguable.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Al

    I fault ATC management for this one. These were scheduled flights at a national airport. There should have been at least two ATC's on duty. What if the guy hadn't responded because he'd dropped dead instead of only fallen asleep? And why hadn't management looked into or even heard of the prior incident(s) alluded to in the radio transmissions?

    March 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David

    Theres an old joke about a pilot survey that asked participants if they had ever fallen asleep on duty. The result was '30% said yes, and 70% lied'. If you have a rostering system that results in people falling asleep after four nights on the graveyard shift then sacking the poor employee isnt going to stop it happening again. The systems broken.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NormK

    Kind of ironic that the incident happened at the airport named after a guy who fired 11,000 air traffic controllers!!

    March 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Which couldn't be more irrelevant if you crashed a van into a warehouse of Irrelevancy.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tina in Canada

    Ive worked over night and I know first hand how tiring it is. there truly is no such thing as well rested while enduring this cruel shift. Ive fallen a sleep standing up! Now, I realize how serious this is. And thank goodness no one was hurt but, why was he alone? I figure this job would take the steps to prevent such a thing. safety first? he is a 20 year veteran. no word on previous offenses thus far. give the guy a break. there could be a bigger reason he sliped or rather slept up i.e. over worked maybe even sick. we are only human. Im just saying...

    March 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mick Jagger

    Oy mate, this blog is making me sleepy. Delta 119 you're clear

    March 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
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