Entries in Air Traffic Controllers (4)


DOT Inspector General Paints Troubling Picture of FAA and Air Traffic Controllers

Comstock/Thinkstock)(WASHINGTON) -- At a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General Calvin Scovel III testified about recent problems with air traffic controllers -- everything from controllers falling asleep on the job to making operational errors that caused planes to fly too close to each other.

Scovel told the Senate subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security that there are four areas that are particularly challenging for the FAA: identifying and addressing the cause of operational errors, mitigating fatigue, adequately staffing air traffic control facilities and training new controllers.

Scovel also said that FAA statistics show a recent significant increase in operational errors, but the cause of this increase remains unclear.  

"Until FAA takes action to develop comprehensive data... conduct astute trend analyses, and develop timely action plans to address controller workforce risks and vulnerabilities, FAA cannot ensure it has a sufficient number of alert, competent, and certified controllers needed to effectively manage the challenges of the next generation of air traffic control," Scovel said.

According to FAA data, the number of operational errors by controllers increased by 53 percent -- from 1,234 to 1,887 between fiscal year 2009 and 2010. The FAA says it believes the increase is due to a new reporting system that allows controllers to report operational errors without fear of reprisal.

The inspector general indicated that FAA has not yet fully put in place recommendations to identify the causes of controller fatigue or solutions to mitigate the risk.

"Let’s be clear on one thing here and now: it’s unacceptable for a controller to fall asleep on the job.  If they do, they should be removed immediately.  That part is non-negotiable," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said at the hearing. "Someone 5,000 feet in the air should never wonder if the controller on the ground has nodded off."

The FAA is working to hire and train nearly 11,000 new controllers. The inspector general found that the process does not adequately consider new controllers’ knowledge, skills and ability when assigning them to facilities, and that critical facilities have a high percentage of controllers in training.

Currently, new controllers comprise up to 25 percent of the ATC workforce compared to 15 percent in 2004. However, this percentage can vary extensively by location. For example, Seattle TRACON has 46 percent of its controller workforce in training, while St. Louis TRACON has no controllers in training.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FAA Makes Changes to Controller Schedules

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Sunday announced several changes to the work schedules of air traffic controllers across the country, with the aim of allowing controllers to have more rest between shifts and prevent controllers from falling asleep on the job.

The changes in schedule come on the heels of incidents of air traffic controllers falling asleep while on duty in Miami and Reno, in the past week. These latest incidents are two of at least five reported incidents of controllers falling asleep during the overnight shift since early March.

“We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job,” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Safety is our top priority and we will continue to make whatever changes are necessary.”

The FAA has implemented new scheduling rules which will see controllers now having a minimum of nine hours off between shifts and controllers will no longer be able to swap shifts unless they have at least nine hours off between the last shift they worked and the one they want to begin.

Officials say controllers will also no longer be able to switch to an unscheduled midnight shift following a day-off and FAA managers will seek to schedule their own shifts in a way that ensures greater coverage during the early morning and late night hours.

The FAA says the new rules have already been put in place and officials expect these rules will be in full effect in the coming days.

On Monday officials are scheduled to begin a series of Call to Action air traffic control safety and professionalism meetings, which will see officials visiting air traffic facilities in a number of cities including, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Kansas City.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Not Again! Air Traffic Controller Falls Asleep On the Job

Comstock/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Another air traffic controller fell asleep on the job Saturday morning, just as the Federal Aviation Administration plans to change schedules linked to controller fatigue.

The agency claims that no flights were impacted by this latest incident. The air traffic controller has been suspended.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt announced Saturday that he has ordered certain scheduling changes to take effect within 72 hours.

“We are taking important steps today that will make a real difference in fighting air traffic controller fatigue," Babbitt said. "But we know we will need to do more. This is just the beginning.”

The air traffic controller at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center did not miss any calls from aircraft, according to the FAA.

In a joint op-ed for USA Today published online this weekend, Babbitt and National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi said, “These recent incidents have cast doubt on whether our nation's controllers are truly committed to keeping the skies safe. We want to tell you they are.”

The pair called the American aviation system the safest in the world, but added that “we can do better.”

“On Monday, we are kicking off our Call to Action on air traffic control safety and professionalism," the op-ed reads. "We will be traveling to air traffic facilities around the country, to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards.”

The article, written before this latest incident, was to be published in Monday's print edition of USA Today.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Sleepy Air Controllers: 'Better Do Your Job'

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama lectured air traffic controllers in an exclusive interview with ABC News, impressing on them the enormous responsibility of safeguarding flying passengers and telling them, "You better do your job."

The president spoke after several controllers were caught asleep on the job and the man in charge of air traffic control, Hank Krakowski, resigned on Thursday.

"The individuals who are falling asleep on the job, that's unacceptable," the president told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Thursday.  "The fact is, when you're responsible for the lives and safety of people up in the air, you better do your job.  So, there's an element of individual responsibility that has to be dealt with."

Five controllers have been suspended for apparently napping on the job while planes were trying to land at their airports.

The president said a full review of air traffic control work shifts is underway.

"What we also have to look at is air traffic control systems.  Do we have enough back up?  Do we have enough people?  Are they getting enough rest time?" Obama said.

He added, however, "But it starts with individual responsibility."

In March, two commercial airliners were forced to land unassisted at Washington, D.C.'s Reagan National Airport after a controller apparently fell asleep.

Just days later, two controllers at the Preston Smith International Airport in Lubbock, Texas, did not hand off control of a departing aircraft to another control center and it took repeated attempts for them to be reached.

On Feb. 19, an air traffic controller in Knoxville, Tennessee, slept during an overnight shift.  Sources told ABC News that the worker even took pillows and cushions from a break room to build a make-shift bed on the control room floor.

And this month, there were two more incidents.  A controller fell asleep on the job in Seattle, and days later a controller in Reno, Nevada, was snoozing when a plane carrying a critically ill passenger was seeking permission to land.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio