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Air traffic control ‘sleepers’ likely isn’t new problem

Where we stand

April 23, 2011
The Mining Journal

Unless a sudden epidemic of narcolepsy has struck airport towers during the past few months, it is difficult to believe air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job are anything new.

Another one was reported last week at a radar center in Miami. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the culprit was turned in by another of the 12 controllers on duty at the time. The incident occurred during a shift that began with a lecture about "professionalism and the importance of reporting to work fit for duty," the FAA admitted.

Counting the Saturday incident, five situations in which controllers fell asleep on the job have been reported since late March. The first, you may remember, was covered extensively by the news media.

Which brings up a concern: It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe air traffic controllers began falling asleep on the job in late March. How many such situations have gone unreported during the past several years?

Did the FAA cover up or minimize the extent of the problem until reporters started asking about it? Or did individual airports neglect to report sleeping controllers to the FAA?

Neither explanation is reassuring. Congress should investigate the situation. The traveling public has a right to know about potential threats to safety - and what the FAA is doing about them.



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