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FAA seeks to fire napping controller

April 7, 2011 at 10:54 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 7 (UPI) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is pressing to fire a Knoxville, Tenn., air traffic controller the agency said napped during an overnight shift in February.

The FAA said situation in Knoxville differed from an incident at Washington's Reagan National Airport -- where a controller told officials he inadvertently dozed off during his graveyard shift last month -- because the controller at Knoxville's airport intentionally slept while seven planes landed during a five-hour period Feb. 19, The Washington Post reported.

The incident became public Wednesday during FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt's testimony before a House transportation subcommittee.

At Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport, when the radar controller took a nap the tower controller assumed his duties and guided the planes to the runway, the Post reported.

"The FAA will not tolerate this type of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior," the FAA said in a statement, indicating that the sleeping Knoxville controller would be fired. "The agency is committed to ensuring the safety of the traveling public and is conducting a nationwide review of the air traffic control system, including overnight staffing at selected airports around the country."

Babbitt suspended the Reagan National controller after two planes with a combined 165 passengers on board landed on their own while he slept. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered two controllers regularly be assigned to the overnight shift at National.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association repeated its concerns about single staffing on overnight shifts.

"Once again, we're talking about the midnight shift," union spokesman Doug Church told the Post. "We continue to be concerned with the issue of safe staffing on the midnight shifts and are working collaboratively with the FAA to determine appropriate staffing levels at all facilities nationwide on all shifts."

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