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FAA adds controllers at 27 towers

  |   April 13, 2011 at 4:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 13 (UPI) -- The federal government Wednesday added more air controllers on the midnight shift at 27 U.S. control towers currently single-staffed at night.

The change comes weeks after two jetliners landed on their own at Washington's Reagan National Airport after a controller working alone fell asleep on the overnight shift. Several other incidents involving controllers working alone came to light after that, including an incident at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning when a controller at Reno-Tahoe International Airport was asleep while an air ambulance flight carrying a sick patient was attempting to land.

The flight landed safely unassisted and the controller was suspended pending an investigation.

"I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is unacceptable," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said. "The American public trusts us to run a safe system."

Lahood, joined by Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt, announced one additional controller would be added to the overnight shift at 27 control towers nationwide immediately in towers currently staffed by only one controller after midnight.

"Air traffic controllers are responsible for making sure aircraft safely reach their destinations," Babbitt said. "We absolutely cannot and will not tolerate sleeping on the job. This type of unprofessional behavior does not meet our high safety standards."

The FAA said a controller was suspended for sleeping during a morning shift Monday at Boeing Field/King County International Airport in Seattle while two other controllers handled arriving and departing flights.

Two controllers at Preston Smith International Airport in Lubbock, Texas, were suspended for failing to hand off control of departing aircraft to the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center during the midnight shift on March 29, the FAA said.

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