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Napping Controller Spurs New ATC Procedures

March 25, 2011 —In the wake of the air traffic control supervisor who admitted to falling asleep on duty with planes about to land at Reagan-Washington National Airport early Wednesday, March 23, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has ordered new communications procedures for air traffic controllers while the agency reviews overnight staffing levels at selected U.S. airports.

Effective immediately, Babbitt directed all radar controllers to contact ATC towers to confirm a controller is prepared to handle the incoming flight. Babbitt also reminded all controllers that proper procedures require them to offer pilots the option to divert to another airport if they do not make contact with the tower.

“I am determined to make sure we do not repeat Wednesday’s unacceptable event,” Babbitt stressed. The two aircraft, a United Airlines Airbus A320 inbound from Chicago and an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 from Miami, landed safely after pilots’ repeated attempts to contact the Reagan tower between 12:04 and 12:28 a.m. EDT. Pilots were in contact with Potomac Approach, however, and used uncontrolled airport procedures to separate themselves during landing and taxi.

On Thursday DOT Secretary Ray LaHood ordered that two controllers be placed on the overnight shift at Reagan National, and Babbitt vowed a thorough investigation. “I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public,” Babbitt said. “As a former airline pilot, I am personally outraged that this controller did not meet his responsibility to help land these two airplanes.”

The FAA also suspended the controller - a 20-year veteran - from all operational duties.

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