Recently, the flying public has been told of a rash of incidents where air traffic controllers are falling asleep on duty and planes are without ATC guidance. There have been 7 separate reported incidents (no one really knows how many other controllers fell asleep but were not caught) and this past week, the FAA came out with a new set of rules regarding rest times between shifts and how controllers can swap or bid on shifts. The FAA believes that this will fix the problem.
In 20 plus years of doing aircraft accident litigation there have been many cases we have handled where controllers were inattentive to duty or asleep or otherwise preoccupied with something other than their job. A controller sleeping on the job is no big news. In the incident at Washington-Reagan National Airport, where a single controller on duty was essentially a night watchman at an airport with a curfew, it’s not only likely, but really quite common that sleeping on the job occurs. When will the FAA go into true damage control to prevent controllers from sleeping on the job? If you notice, the FAA has made no explanation or excuses for controllers sleeping on the job.
Hopefully new FAA administrator, CAPT Randy Babbitt, who is a former airline captain and union leader, will lay down the law. CAPT Babbitt does know how to tackle tough problems, but the FAA is an agency that has lots of things broken and CAPT Babbitt has inherited a mess that is going to require some tough procedural changes and accountability.
Air traffic controllers have an average annual salary of more than $160,000. They work in shifts, have mandatory rest time between shifts and receive mandatory work breaks. There is simply no reason for falling asleep on the job.
Attorney Donald Maciejewski
Florida Bar Board Certified in Aviation