Fifth Incident of Sleeping Air Traffic Controller Prompts Schedule Actions

A new incident in Miami on has led to changes in controller schedules.

ByABC News
April 16, 2011, 7:13 PM

April 16, 2011— -- For at least the fifth time since early March, an air traffic controller fell asleep on the job today in Miami, prompting negotiations between the government and the controllers' union to change the way controllers are scheduled to work.

The incident during the midnight shift did not cause any harm, and the controller was working alongside others, but it did again raise major concerns over safety that many feel must be the final straw in the string of incidents since March.

The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that there is a widespread problem with fatigue among controllers and that the organization must institute changes in work schedules.

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

The government has said that within 72 hours, new rules for controllers will be announced. Sources have told ABC News that this will include more time off between shifts, to allow for appropriate rest.

This morning's incident occurred at a busy Miami radar facility that handles high altitude air traffic for much of Florida, portions of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. According to the FAA the controller, who has now been suspended, did not miss any calls from aircraft and there was no impact on flight operations.

In total there have now been at least seven incidents since the start of the year in which a controller is believed to have fallen asleep on the job on the midnight shift. One case occurred earlier this week in Reno when a controller missed a radio call from a plane carrying a seriously ill passenger.

Though other controllers attempted to help, the pilot ultimately had to land the plane by himself.