Inebriated Air Traffic Controller? Denver Employee Sent to Rehab

Controller was six hours into an eight-hour shift.

ByABC News
July 19, 2011, 10:06 AM

July 19, 2011 -- A 25-year veteran Denver air traffic controller was recently removed from duty after he tested positive for alcohol while on the job, according to a report from ABC News affiliate KMGH. The report has been confirmed by ABC News.

The controller was six hours into an eight-hour shift at the Denver Center, which oversees aircraft flying in more than nine states, when Federal Aviation Administration officials entered the center to administer drug and alcohol testing. An aviation source tells ABC news the controller was working the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift that day.

The test revealed that the controller was above the legal limit for blood-alcohol content for controllers, which is less than .02, while for automobile drivers, the limit is .08.

The controller has since been removed from duty and is in an alcohol rehabilitation facility, KMGH reported.

"The response has to be very firm and draconian," said John Nance, a former commercial pilot and an aviation consultant for ABC News.

The FAA said it is investigating the incident, and that the controller in question is not working air traffic.

The head of the union representing air traffic controllers also issued a statement. "We take our responsibility of ensuring aviation safety very seriously. That includes acting professionally in all that we do. ... . Thus, the incident is deeply troubling. We ... will continue to work to keep our airspace system the world's safest," said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The Denver incident was the latest in a string of lapses that included air traffic controllers sleeping on the job -- as many as seven since the start of 2011.

In April in Reno, Nev., a controller working the overnight shift fell asleep, leaving a small plane transporting a seriously sick patient to circle overhead.

Controllers in Sacramento, Calif., who had last talked to the pilot, tried to contact the controller on a phone line, but the pilot was eventually told to land at his own risk.

Also that month in Cleveland, an air traffic controller, with responsibility for directing flights over the center of the country, was suspended for watching a movie while on duty.

The controller had inadvertently left his microphone open, piping the movie out to anyone in his airspace and leaving him unable to hear any radio calls.

There has been no indication that air traffic in Denver was in any way affected any way by the controller who tested positive for alcohol earlier this month.