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Tower Asleep at the Switch

When American Airlines Flight 1900 could not raise the tower at Reagan International Airport, the controller at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach tries to help.

Here are some highlights….

Potomac: “Just so you’re aware, the tower is apparently not manned. We’ve made a few phone calls. No one’s answered. … So you can expect to go in as an uncontrolled airport.”
American 1900: “Is there a reason it’s not manned?”
Potomac: “I’m going to take a guess and say that the controller got locked out. I’ve heard of this happening before.”

Two airliners had to conduct unassisted landings because the only person pulling the over night shift in the tower has fallen asleep. Authorities have suspended the controller (a supervisor) while the incident is investigated.

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy 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,. I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public.”

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed FAA to launch a nationwide study of airport tower staffing. He also directed that at least two controllers be on duty at night at Reagan, which is located just across the Potomac River from Washington in Northern Virginia.

“It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space,” LaHood said.

The head of the union that represents air traffic controllers praised LaHood’s actions, saying changes in staffing are needed.


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Rob March 29, 2011, 15:45

    I also agree that it is not acceptable having just one controller in the tower at any time, especially during those late hours when traffic is not too heavy. Good time for trainees to accompany them. Money shouldn't be an issue when we are so worried about safety.

  • Ted Jensen March 30, 2011, 00:07

    @Rob I agree as well. What were they thinking?

    What seems even more disturbing is the pilots not seeming too overly concerned. They had kind of a "yeah, this happens from time to time" attitude. Unbelievable.

  • Jeannie April 3, 2011, 15:45

    "On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed FAA to launch a nationwide study of airport tower staffing. He also directed that at least two controllers be on duty at night at Reagan"

    Good idea! This kind of instance disturbs me, as there should be no reason for having someone who has worked so many hours he falls asleep on duty.

    A second controller would take care of this type of situation, hopefully.

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