April 14th, 2011
10:19 AM ET

FAA's air traffic control chief resigns, administrator says

The Federal Aviation Administration official in charge of operating the air traffic control system has resigned amid revelations that several controllers have fallen asleep on the job this year, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said Thursday.

The resignation comes after the latest reported incident of an air traffic controller falling asleep on duty. According to the FAA, "a controller fell asleep while a medical flight carrying an ill patient was trying to land" Wednesday morning at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada.

It would be the sixth incident this year involving a sleeping controller that the FAA has disclosed. One occurred at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, another at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, and three incidents involving the same person occurred at Boeing Field/King County International Airport in Seattle.

The FAA said it also suspended two controllers in Lubbock, Texas, for an incident in the early hours of March 29 in which they failed to hand off control of a departing flight to the Fort Worth Air Traffic Control Center, and responded only after several attempts by the same center to hand them control of an arriving flight.

The FAA statement did not indicate whether the Lubbock controllers were thought to have been asleep.

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Filed under: Air travel • FAA • Travel
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. john

    The rotating shifts cause the fatigue. The FAA has known this for at least 30yrs, but refused to take the recommendations from the experts they hired to do the studies!
    An 8 hr break between shifts provides about 4 hrs sleep max.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Randy E

    I don't see what the problem is. The FAA can only give the safety you, as a taxpayer will pay for. Its apparent having one person in the tower is what we pay for. Its all about lowering government taxes and costs these days right? Now some can see how dangerous this thinking is.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Fanfaron

    Don't you think the FCC could install "voice activated alarms" triggered by the words: 'WAKE UP' rather than hire additional sleepy controllers at astronomical salaries? Duh!

    April 14, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    QC is correct!!!!!! Air traffic controllers make anywhere from 125k to 140k a year. And this does not include locality pay which adds another 17-30% on top of that. Also does not include 25% extra for Sunday pay, 10% extra night pay, 10% OJT pay, and overtime. http://www.stuckmic.com/atc-information/7231-2010-2012-atc-payscale.html check out that link. It's the current pay band for all controllers excluding management . They are on a much higher pay scale. This one is just for controllers. Managers at a large facility start at 159k -179k not including benefits just outlined. This is true facts. He is right on the money...no pun intended.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    Folks,quit badgering the controllers on how much they make.I am a professional pilot and I can tell you they do an outstanding job of managing the skies for us.The stress levels on a controller are enormous and nobody on the ground or even in the pilot's seat of an airliner can ever comprehend.So, in my book, they earn every cent they make and I don't begrudge them their salary one bit.
    Having said that, a combination of poor financial planning, exploding traffic and poor knowledge or application of human factors has led to the current crisis.Everybody needs to share the blame.Congress, the FAA ,ATC and of course, the managers of the guys involved.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • SheLT

      Thank you Brian!

      April 15, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. Akira

    Guess in this economy, the government can't even afford to give these ATC's some damn coffee.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. IKHAN

    Right & where are all our tax dollars & what we borrow going? Wars & dole out to our 'allies' for sure.
    This is scary folks as lives are put at risk when traffic controllers doze off.
    Can't equate them with politicos who are of no particular use to the citizenry even when awake.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. abby1

    I hope they fired the air traffic controllers that fell asleep on the job. If the actual guilty parties are still on the job, then the resignation of the agency head is fruitless.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy

    Isn't the concept of a dead man's switch in the ATC Tower kind of useless? At least on trains, there's an actual *track* that the train is on...I get the idea, but how would this be applicable to the ATC's? If the switch is put in the locomotive, wouldn't it follow that the switch be put on the *plane*? The pilot isn't asleep. That's not the problem. I am truly curious...anyone?

    April 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. raven

    Looks like like the ATCs are in good company what with Joe Biden takin a lil nappy in fronta God and everyone.

    April 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy

    @raven: *snicker*

    April 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. YesWeDoCare

    Putting aside the controller's pay discussion, @RC above is right. The controllers should know the rules and should be responsible to do their job. How in the world, can this guy Hank Krakowski – the head of the FAA Air Traffic Organization be solely at fault. What, does the FAA expect him to micro-manage every air traffic controller across the country 24/7? Ridiculous.

    The guy didn't step down voluntarily. He was forced to step down. He's FAA's scapegoat. That's their way of "showing" the media and public that they are supposedly on top of correcting the situation.

    Yeah, maybe they do need to revamp their policies. But ultimately if you take a job as a air traffic controller, you are accepting the responsibility to ensure the safety of people's live. If you take that responsibility lightly and want to sleep on the job, then the job's not for you. And if you are overworked, overstressed – then complain your a/s/s off about it, don't just fall asleep.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Yossarian_22

    You get what you pay for. How appropriate that this happened at Reagan National Airport. Hell, he practically slept through his entire presidency. After he busted the PATCO union in the beginning salvo against the middle class of this country, ATC worklife has gone to the crapper. And the gall of House committee chairman John Mica R-Fla squashing any proposals to add extra ATC staff to these slow night shifts, calling it "wasteful spending," is outrageous. Go on America...keep letting these Tea Baggers tear this nation apart with their loony tunes ideas and you'll be the next guy that suffers from a hands off approach to serious matters.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mack Jones, MD

    These sleepers most likely have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). They should have a sleep study and receive PAP treatment when positive. The same holds for pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers and auto drivers.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SheLT

    @ Brian: Thank you!!! We do take our jobs very seriously and we know EXACTLY what is at stake when we work! We work hard to be efficient and safe, thank you for your support. You guys also do a great job for your passengers! @RC: A. You are misinformed and speaking as if all controllers make 160k. B. I can't believe how much emphasis is put on how much controllers make! It various depending on the level of facility. Some small towers only make 55k-60k, some depending on how long they have been controllers and the level of facility (based on the area's traffic volume) 160-180k AFTER locality and night differentials. So, trying to put an emphasis on how much controllers pay is unfair because what they make or do not make is not the issue. The issue is that the FAA has long known that the current rotating shift schedule is exhausting and they have not done enough to alleviate the problem. Controllers are required to work high volume traffic with maximum complexity sometimes with weather, emergencies, military operations etc and also suppose to do this with the affects of work and everyday life stress with poor work schedules that undermine "best performance" ready employees. Yes, anyone who shows up for work should be prepared to work and not sleep. But during the day there may need to be 6 scopes open to control the traffic volume, but at night they combine those scopes to one you may only get a total of three aircraft that fly through that same airspace in an 8 hour shift.
    Let's also not forget that Air Traffic is career field where they promote the controllers who BARELY made it through training and who are not "safe" in their control judgements at best, to management just to get them off the boards and so they aren't controlling planes and their co-workers have to compensate for their weak skills. So, they get a promotion and a pay raise for their LACK of expertise and THOSE are the people who make it to management to make the schedules and policies that hurt the ATC workforce. So, please..before you begin attacking controllers do your homework and consider that what you see in the headlines isn't the full story. Respectfully, A Controller

    April 15, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
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