April 20th, 2011
04:12 PM ET

What should be done about the rash of air traffic controller screw-ups?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

The next time you're on an airplane making a landing in a crowded metropolitan area, the thought may cross your mind whether the air traffic controller handling your flight is awake or asleep or watching a movie or doing something besides helping get your flight safely on the ground. Just a thought.
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Nine incidents are under investigation by the FAA in cities from Washington to Knoxville, Tennessee, to Reno, Nevada, to Seattle, where air traffic controllers reportedly fell asleep on the job and in one case were watching a movie while working.

On Monday afternoon, a plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden had to abort its landing at Andrews Air Force Base after coming dangerously close to a military cargo jet. The cause: error by a civilian air traffic controller. The FAA said neither plane was ever in any danger but it is launching a full investigation into that incident, too. The National Transportation Safety Board is also looking into what happened.

The last time the air traffic controllers acted up, Ronald Reagan fired all 11,000 of them. The union had decided to strike. President Reagan stepped in and hired nearly 9,000 new air traffic controllers to take their places over the next year. Critics say three decades later, many of those one-time scabs are starting to retire or approaching retirement age, and employee turnover may be part of the problem with air traffic controllers right now. But the funny thing is, I don't recall a rash of sleeping controllers back in the ‘80s.

Over the weekend, the FAA announced changes to controllers' schedules, now requiring at least nine hours between shifts instead of eight. Controllers also will not be allowed to switch shifts with another controller unless they have had at least nine hours off. And perhaps if they're caught sleeping on the job they should be fired instead of merely suspended.

Here’s my question to you: What should be done about the rash of air traffic controller screw-ups?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?

Outside of training and hiring more controllers, not much. Some reprimands would be in order of course, but there isn't anything new here. It’s just 'hot news'. As in any job pertaining to safety, people are still human, despite our desire for them not to be. They are fallible and prone to errors in judgment.

Dave in Peterborough, New Hampshire:
For one thing, they should stop mixing day and night shifts. This is the most absurd thing I've ever heard of. I've worked for years in the airline industry (in maintenance) and this is such a no-brainier that it was never ever done. I think if there's to be any action taken, it should fall solely on the heads of the people that approved of these schedules.

David in Virginia:
Smarten up, build high-speed rail infrastructure, and enjoy the jobs it creates.

Karen in Fredericksburg, Virginia:
Screw-ups? Maybe not. You try staying up all night with nothing to do but stare at a screen waiting for 2 or 3 flights to arrive. I was a night shift worker for many years and it took me almost a year to adjust. Some people can never adjust. Sometimes sleep just happens.

Thousands of Americans work overnight shifts without sleeping on the job. Simple, they should be fired.

Jack in Lancaster, Ohio:
You know what will be done. The sleepers will get time off with pay to get more "controller" education. Education will be the answer. Let us see if I am correct.

It is a very intense job that has significant downtime at odd hours. I have worked shift work with full nightshifts for years, and unless someone has actually done it, they are not qualified to pass judgment. It's simple stuff folks, there is no way it should ever, ever be a single person job. How would you feel getting on a night flight with only one pilot? Think about it.

Filed under: Airlines
soundoff (150 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    The problem is the FAA, and not the controllers.

    April 20, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  2. cal

    fire them. When I do not do my job i am let go. The same should haven to the goverment bodys. fire them all.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  3. Ralph Spyer

    UNIONISE, you would get people that care about their job,their working hours, their working conditions, their pensions, their welfair and of the passengers in the air welfair .In other words, pride in your work.8 hours pay for 8 hours work. You get what you pat for.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  4. Tom Bulger, Canandaigua

    Ronald Reagan's fire them all approach should be rejected. Decisions should be made on the basis of facts and science.

    If sleep studies indicate that controllers perform better when not on rotating shift schedules, then fixed scheduling should be adopted.

    If a controller "volunteered" to work a double shift because no one else was available and he/she fell asleep trying to cover an understaffed airport, that mistake belongs to Ronald Reagan. That controller is a victim and should not be fired.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  5. Bradley, Portland, OR

    First of all, they need to have two or more people in the tower at all times, day or night. It's ridiculous that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have only one person there.

    Secondly, they need to stop flip-flopping schedules where you work a night shift, and then 9 hours later you're working a day shift. Your body's clock can't make the change that fast.

    If someone's going to work the night shift, have them do it for at least a week, and let people have a couple of days off, like a weekend, to readjust before shifting them back to days.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  6. bob z fr ,pa.

    they will wait till some body gets killed then they will blame every body but the ones who are at fault the unions will not fire a guy that got caught 2 times in jan and once more in aprill

    April 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Terrence Cain

    I say fire every single one of them that has been caught not doing their job. Get rid of the sleepers, DVD watchers, and the people who can't do the job like those idiots who almost caused a major and possible fatal accident with First Lady Obama's plane. Then hire new air controllers. Have a minimum of four at each station on an eight hour shifts around the clock. That way they get the rest they need, there is four people keeping things in control at all times during the eight hour shifts and hopefully things will stop being out of control at the airports.

    Terrence Cain
    Big Spring, TX

    April 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  8. Bill

    I don't know. Air traffic controllers have recently been caught in unpardonable circumstances. Since many lives are in their hands–it can hardly be anymore serious.

    There are reasons why they retire at 55 years of age.

    I assume that they have recovered from the Reagan firings.

    It may be a tough problem that should have been solved years ago. If this is the case, you can bet that it will not be solved this time around.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Dave in Arizona

    They should hire more of them and staff appropriately. Working a 12 hour night shift and then having to come back 9 hours later in ANY job is absurd. People who fly should pay taxes to afford the additional staffing.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  10. Joe R - Houston

    The problem with incompetent air traffic controllers is their employer.

    Using brute force rather than persuasion, their employer confiscated the authority of the primary air travel stakeholder ( the carriers themselves ) to insure that their customers and equipment are protected against harm through actions that are either negligent or intentional.

    Their employers are elected by us. The problem is us.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  11. Peg in NY

    Air traffic controllers need proper rest. The schedules should be re-done, to make sure all of them are well rested and that they are able and capable of performing their jobs 100%.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  12. pad

    I would fire them.
    Jack I often wonder have you been asleep on the job?

    April 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  13. Bonnie from NJ

    We should hire more of them. I was shocked to learn there is only one at night at National in DC. Are you serious, one?? It is just another example of our money being spent in all the wrong places (i.e. your question of should we be funding Libyan rebels). From what I understand our equipment is antiquated, too. Our government, doesn't matter democrat or republican, is a joke!

    April 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  14. MNResident

    It doesn't matter what SHOULD be done about the air traffic controller issue as what WILL be done. What WILL be done is exactly what is being attempted with any other problem in our government today-just throw billions or trillions of dollars at the problem and then have President Obama declare the problem solved. If the problem still exists, then blame the problem on Republicans like Palin and Trump....

    April 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  15. Tony from Southport

    More people in the tower. Some will complain that this would be costly. Well what will it cost if a plane goes down killing hundreds of people?

    April 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  16. connie schultz

    First they should have a warning slip . If they dont straighten up fire them . they are alot of people out of work right . They should appreciate there job.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  17. Pete in Georgia

    Look, ANYTHING run by the Federal Gov't. is nothing but an evolution of arrogance, entitlement, inefficiency, corruption, and waste.

    In short......................a complete Disaster.

    In an ideal world we should, under completely NEW honest and sane leadership, DISMANTLE disasterous departments such as what "controls" the Air Traffic Controllers and start over, using logical, efficient, NON UNION functions.

    In an ideal world.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  18. Patrick in Mi.

    well I don't believe that working a person 8 or 9 on and then 8 or9 off is the answer. All that does is cause more stress,mental dullness and heart attacks.
    Saving a buck at the expense of safety is never as good business plan.
    More breaks or a backup person for safety would be a good plan.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  19. Greg in Arkansas

    For over 30 years, I have worked in aviation under the "heavy thumb" of FAA regulations so it comes as "quite-a-surprise" that the FAA is having internal problems with controllers.

    A search of the FAA website turns up 256 hits on the subject of Human Factors....a topic dedicated to preventing mistakes in aviation due to things like lack of rest, high stress, irregular hours, poor working conditions, etc.

    IF...the FAA would only "practice what they preach" or even read some of the material they require pilots and mechanics to understand, they might realize that they have a systemic system failure when it comes to understanding the need to have ATC controllers rested, refreshed and satisfied with their job assignment before they clock in and juggle hundreds of aircraft and the lives of thousands of airline passengers.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm |

    What should be done about the air traffic controller problem?

    Here is the problem as I see it Jack.

    Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) are often alone, in the dead of night, in a dark room, with only the radar screen in front of them.

    There is no sound for hours on end and the natural response for a body is to rest at night.

    The solution.

    Allow for music, tv, other ATC's, allow for conversation, maybe make the room brighter somehow after all the ATC's work fine in the day time. Put a bud in the ear of the ATC so that the priority is the aircraft and not the stimuli.

    But that is just me Jack.

    Roseville CA

    April 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  21. Phyllis G Williams

    What should be done about the air traffic controller problem?

    I lost my brother Flight-Lieut. Hugh Victor Williams several
    years ago and am still feeling it, so I guess you could try
    paying two qualified Pilots to each job, with the understanding
    they cannot sleep at the same time.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  22. Bizz, Quarryville Pennsylvania

    Traffic controllers need to have their hours reduced with more hours off between shifts. There should always be more then one controller in the tower. There should also be strict rules, anyone caught sleeping or watching TV or what ever should be fired immediately. These people need to take their job seriously. Having to watch 50 planes at a time while working long hours is a very stressful job. You need more controllers when less hours. Spending $10.00 to save a dime never works.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  23. Paul Austin, Texas

    An investigation in detail needs to be done by the inspector General's office to avoid any overlook of problems with individuals or equipment and schedules. When one inspects themself not much wrong is found.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  24. Mike S., Dayton

    Undo all the de-regulations of airlines and air traffic controllers that took place under Ronald Reagan. It has been an airline bloodbath ever since.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  25. Rich McKinney, Texas

    I think what needs to happen is the FAA needs to incorporate a system where it requires each air traffic controller to manually call in and enter their on duty identity code every 15 minutes. If they do not call in then their immediate supervisor is paged and that supervisor must respond to the tower to check on the controller. One or two times of non-compliance and they are out the door. That means both the supervisor and the controller.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  26. Dave Marshall

    I think it is time for our Secretary of Transportation and President to follow in the footsteps of President Reagan and clean house. It has been happening so often in the last few weeks that I don't trust any of them and am telling all of my friends to fly at their own risk. So far, there have been no accidents caused by this crisis, but, Wait and Ye Shall Receive...

    April 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  27. Cliff Glass - Rego Park, New York


    Air traffic control is an accelerated version of a baseball batter – except of instead of three strikes and you're out – it has to be one strike and you're fired.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  28. Ken from California

    Dump these people, there are plenty of folks who would love to have the job.
    I would like to ask those anti-regulation Congress persons the same question, those who think we don't need regulations for our safety, health, and economic welfare.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  29. Robert

    Air traffic controllers should have 12 hours off between their shifts to have a proper sleep, travel safely between home and work and have down time. 9 hours isnot enough between shifts to accomplish this.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  30. Ralph Spyer

    Unionise ,you would get people that care about their jobs, their working hours, their working conditions,care about their welfair and the welfair of the passengers in the air.In other words ,people who have pride in their jobs

    April 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  31. Woody

    Switch 'em with TSA agents ...be easier for us non-threatening travelers if the TSA agents took naps!

    April 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  32. Jim in Alabama

    Jack, this problem clearly illustrates the failure of the industry to provide adequate rest for not only the air traffic controllers, but also the pilots. The public should be outraged and demand that additional controllers be hired and safeguards put in place. It's only a matter of time before a tragic accident occurs and being a reactionary society where profits are placed above everything else, even customer safety, then will something get done and only then. Sad.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  33. Karen B

    Screwups? Maybe not. You try staying up all night with nothing to do but stare at a screen waiting for 2 or 3 flights to arrive. I was a night shift worker for many years and it took me almost a year to adjust. Some people can never adjust. What's even harder is constantly changing shifts. Maybe they should have permanent shifts and let the people who like to work nights take the late shifts. Did I ever fall asleep at my desk? No ... but I always had work to do and wasn't sitting in a dark tower trying to keep awake. Sometimes sleep just happens.

    Karen B ... Fredericksburg, VA

    April 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  34. Peggy

    I know, I know, you can't answer a question with a question, but have these screw-ups happened in the past and have never been exposed or have they never happened before and all of a sudden we have some very inept people in those positions? (Very sleepy people anyway)

    April 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  35. Loren, Chicago

    Seems like someone has an agenda to get more money for the air traffic control. Does anyone really believe that these types of events haven't been occurring regularly since air travel began? As they say follow the money.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  36. david -seattle

    4 day work weeks , 5 day pay , Jack.....requiring another 8 hour shift 8 hours after another shift is assinin..but, that is what you get with the Ray Lahoods of this country...Also, having someone to talk to while your in thier drinking so much coffee that your body eventually shuts down , requires fresh fruit juice that doesnt have corn syrup or corn sugar in it... get completely off the processed sugar and they wont be nodding off...but, given the lack of quality food supply we have inthis country, everyone suffers due to the industrialists who ruin our health with profit drivin foods that dont allow us to evolve , or stay awake

    April 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  37. Paul P.

    Outside of training and hiring more controllers, not much. Some reprimands would be in order of course, but there isn't anything new here, its just 'hot news'. As in any job pertaining to safety, people are still human, despite our desire for them not to be. They are fallible and prone to errors in judgement like anyone else and although there has been alot of attention drawn to them recently, incidents like this have very likely been going on all along.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  38. David Scott Doherty

    For one thing they should stop mixing day and night shifts, this is the most absurd thing I've ever heard of, I've worked for years in the airline industry (maintenance) and this is such a no-brainier that it was never ever done. I think if there's to be any action taken, it should fall souly on the heads of the people that approved of these schedules.
    Dave from Peterborough, NH.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  39. Luis L Montemayor Sr

    Do the FAA Controllers take their job seriously????
    why should we hire babysitters to watch them do their job??
    Just what in the heck is wrong with that proposition??
    Why should we pay twice for the job of one man by hiring a
    baby sitter to see that they dont go to sleep on the job?
    Time was when we all took our jobs seriously and protected it
    Oh maybe because is a Government Job??

    April 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  40. Joe CE

    They are already taking corrective action. It is amasing that after the first reported incidence that so many controllers still continued. It will apparently take a while to overcome this institutional corruption.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  41. Bonnie in Arkansas

    How about ONE shift of duty in a 24-hour period instead of TWO? That might help them stay awake.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  42. Karl in Flint

    When Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 and hired 9,000 it meant he didn't replace them all an no doubt their shifts are all over the map for work hours. Different shifts and short turns between shifts. Saved a lot of money I bet. Having work those bastardly hours myself in non-life threatening situations, your body gives out at times and that is what is happening now. THE FIX: Hire enough people to cover shifts without the torturing schedules. If anyone is working all three shifts in a week, it's a path for disaster.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  43. Steve

    It is a very intense job that has significant downtime at odd hours. I have worked shift work with full nightshifts for years, and unless someone has actually done it, they are not qualified to pass judgement..Its simple stuff folks, there is no way it should ever, ever be a single person job. Especially on the back shifts...How would you feel getting on a night flight with only one pilot ? Think about it for a minute...

    April 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  44. Jack - Lancaster, Ohio

    Mr. Cafferty:

    You know what will be done. The sleepers will get time off with pay to get more "controller" education. Education will be the answer, let us see if I am correct. Thank you !

    April 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  45. Dave, Orlando, FL

    This is a result of Reagan’s deregulation of the airlines and firing of well intentioned people (air traffic controllers). What few people know and fewer remember is that when they went on strike it was because they NEEDED better equipment than the outdated, obsolete stuff held together with scotch tape and spit. They did not strike primarily for money at all. This is what happens when someone like Saint Ronald has no idea what he’s doing. In general, we need to re-regulate everything that was deregulated. We were a safer, more prosperous country then.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  46. Kenneth Turman

    Thousands of Americans work overnite shifts without sleeping on the job. Simple, they should be fired.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  47. Randy

    Make them private like the republicans want. That way we get the same results we have now and we have the honor of paying more money.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  48. Bud Rupert

    When derelection of duty raises it's ugly head in jobs that jeopardises the public safety they should be dismissed – no questions asked.
    I realize that ATC jobs are stressful but thre is no excuse for poeple sleeping or leaving their positions unattended. Also, if the FAA has only one controller on any given shift they should have their collective heads examined

    April 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  49. HJ

    The first lady's plane was 3 miles away from the cargo plane. I would guess there are different rules on air force bases about minimum safe distances. I think we need to stop launching investigations and just call it what it is. A minor mistake caused by a human being. This is why pilots have a thing called radar. So now we have to create a news frenzy, and pass a bunch more regulations, making the job even harder. Wonderful.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm |

    The air traffic controllers are only part of a much larger problem.
    Sure, what they did was life threatning but we should not use them as scape goats.
    The whole FAA should be looked at because they have been napping alot longer in the area of technological advances in air traffic control.
    These air traffic controllers are asked to use "PAC MAN" like equipment to steer thousands of jets out of harms way everyday.

    Air traffic controllers are the last line of defense and should be afforded the latest equipment that is available.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  51. Ed from California

    We all should have walked off the job, when Regan fired them all, way back when. That was the end of the Union movement in this country and it was the end of Air traffic safety, along with start of outsourcing of our jobs, all thanks to deregulation!! I was reading that these guys work some crazy hours w/only a few hours off between shifts. This is why....you need a Union!! A big rig driver has more off time between shifts, than an Airline traffic controller. But, these guys only control things that fly around in the sky and not on the ground. I guess the government must rely solely on the commercial pilots and not so much on a controller. With little sleep, and no help.... It's a disaster waiting to happen.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  52. Mr. D

    More of your federal government in action. Maybe the airlines should hire the air controllers. The airlines could add their salaries to the growing list of airline ticket fees. At least we would be getting something for our money.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  53. Kevin

    Yes, hire more... go to shorter shifts, and double up in high traffic, high risk areas. Funny... all of that was in place before Ronnie fired all the air traffic controllers during the strike.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  54. Conor in Chicago

    The reason these people are sleeping on the job is because they don't understand free market principles. Just give everyone a copy of Atlas Shrugged and it will all sort itself out...

    April 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  55. Paulette in Dallas,PA

    I just completed my travels on Monday and the thought of whether the air traffic controller in the tower was sleeping did cross my mind. How many lives must be lost before this system is revamped? Why not have an extra controller on standbye just in case the one on duty has a problem. What if there is a medical emergency i.e. a heart attack,stroke,etc? Overstaffing in this profession is definitely needed. In championship games there is always a Standbye Official. Why not when so many lives are at stake?

    April 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  56. Lenna Warner

    it may be more than the air traffic controllers who need a heads up.On a recent Air Tran flight from West Palm Beach to Boston I was handed three typed stapled pieces of paper by the personnel at the gate after they checked my boarding pass. I was running late and the flight was about to take off, so I just put the papers in my computer case without looking at them. I assumed the document had something to do with helping me find the correct gate for the connecting flight from Baltimore to Boston
    When I arrived in Baltimore I took out the papers and was surprised to see that the writing was in some kind of code. I slowly realized that because I had boarded at the last minute in WPB and was wearing a black jacket, white blouse and black slacks and pulling a small black suitcase on wheels as so many flight attendants do, that the gate personnel had mistaken me as a member of the flight crew. I thought, 'oh my god is this something important?' I went to the check in counter at thegate for my next AirTran flight and presented the papers to the woman on duty explaining how I got them. She just stared at me then finally said, "Oh, it's just the weather forecast."

    Our flight had been very bumpy, was struck by lightening or at least lightening struck very close by, the cabin lit up like a movie set, and the clap and crackle was deafening and frightening. No real harm was done but I wondered if the pilot had had the weather report, the flight would have been less eventful. And what if I'd been handed something more important than the weather report by accident? YIKES.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  57. Lori - PA


    I don't know what the schedule of an air traffic controller is like, but I fail to see how nine hours off between shifts would benefit someone. Myabe there needs to be a first, second, and third shift. For a period of four months, an air traffic controller would work, say, the third shift. At the end of those four months, the air traffic controller would be switched to, say, the first shift. That should guarantee that an air traffic controller gets plenty of sleep.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  58. RickFromDetroit

    The solution to the Air Traffic Controllers is simple. USDOT needs to reduce the "Hours of Service" the same way they did with the Trucking Industry in 2003.

    Total "On Duty" time which includes breaks, lunch, etc. is not to exceed 14 Hours.

    Total "On Duty" time working at the controls of Air Traffic is not to exceed 11 Hours.

    Total Hours worked in a 8 day period is not to exceed 70 Hours.

    After taking 34 consecutive hours off, the Air Traffic Controller can "Reset" his 70 Hours to "0" and start over.

    Once this Hours of Service program is implemented, the Air Traffic Controllers will be able to work "84 Hours in 7 Days" rather than the Unsafe "70 Hours in 8 Days." Big Improvement.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  59. Rick

    Put the air traffic controllers in charge of the new terror alert system take should wake them up

    April 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  60. diridi

    fire them and replace me....o.k...i do good job...than those idiots...true..

    April 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  61. honest John in Vermont

    Clearly there is a real problem at the FAA and we do need a real solution and quickly. It does not seem the controller's schedules give them sufficent downtime between shifts. 9 hours is not enough when one considers commuting, meals, sleep, showering and then out the door for another day in the tower. Like normal workers they should have at least 12-14 hours between shifts.

    ps: Airline deregulation is a mess. I remember back when it was a pleasure to fly.

    April 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  62. Gigi Oregon

    What makes you think it is the controllers who are at fault? I have worked for employers that cut crews back to make a larger profit margin. Never mind the risks to the employee. In my case safety being alone was a worry. Being alone in a tower could be dangerous. Is the risks worth the dollar margin. In this world of corporate control and the almighty dollar, I would be slow in blaming the person left alone with a responsibility as serious as air traffic control.

    Maybe we should take some serious time and think/study how nine hours on and nine hours off effects the nervous system.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  63. Joe Travis

    The problem is more related to an overworked bunch of air traffic controllers who need time to rest properly.

    More importantly, for the last 20 years all I have heard is how our air traffic control system needs to be completely remodeled utilizing new technology; yet, we continue with a system set up in the 1950's.

    Joe, Binghamton, NY

    April 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  64. Susan from Idaho

    I say they were a shock bracelet. Every so often a little zing. Now on the the worry of the sleepers in the cockpit.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  65. April

    I think more strict punishments should be in place. I think firings should be a real threat instead of just suspension. If the air traffic controllers realized they run the risk of losing their jobs if they screw up they would straighten up a bit.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  66. Heinz Tran

    Only in America when you don't your job correctly where the government step in to add another person to your post. While you are at, can we have another president?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  67. Jesusdude from D.C.

    You all should highly suggest that they get another form of employment that they can actually excel in!!!!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  68. Ron, WA

    This really is much ado about nothing … how many deaths, injuries, accidents or mishaps have come about because of these sensationalized incidents (or any others for that matter)??? Fix their schedules, hire the proper # of controllers & do some sensitivity training or something … but MEDIA: stop trying to scare people to death!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  69. kenyon wells

    Air traffic controllers are too overworked. no one is mentioning that maybe they fell asleep due to exhaustion. we need more of them so they can get some down time! I'm sad it has taken a "near run in" with Biden and Michelle Obama to bring this to public attention.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  70. Ronette from South Dakota

    The poorr guys and gals are tired Jack. I think they should be given plenty of time to sleep. When they're found sleeping on the job they should be fired immediately, and they can go home and sleep their lives away. Mr. Sandman can visit them at home instead of at work!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  71. Bruce, CA.

    Hi Jack!

    Let's see:

    How about sending them all on a vacation –
    Put them all on the same plane & send them in for a landing at 0300 in the AM –
    Oh, yes – make sure their ATC buddies manning their arrival – ARE ALL ASLEEP...



    April 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  72. Ken

    Computerize it. Isn't that the way to take care of lazy worker problems?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  73. Joel in Los Angeles

    Give them Red Bull, that will give them some wings.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  74. Midwest Jim

    High turnover, long hours, understaffed positions.... it sounds like many government jobs under today's rush to cut, cut, cut at all costs.
    Yes the FAA needs to supervise each employee better to maintain safety, but the FAA needs to fully staff these critical positions. There is no cheap way out of these problems.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  75. Will E.

    Since the airlines have been adding fees to the passengers' cost of flying, perhaps they should begin charging a fee for passengers that wish to have an alert, attentive air traffic controller at their destination airport. These fees could be used to subsidize additional ATC staff. 🙂

    April 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  76. h. marsh

    it amazes me that the unions' answer is to have more controllers on duty. All it means is higher cost. Now with 2 controllers on duty for a light workload they can take turns sleeping. What a great solution.

    Just another example of government waste.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  77. Meredith

    First of all, 9 hours between shifts is not long enough. It takes me at least 4 to 5 hours just to wind down after my job. Then sleep and then back to work. This one extra hour will not make a difference at all. The need to re examine how they make schedules. Like make one group work just one shift and then rotate each group every 6 months to the next shift but before the next rotation happens make sure that group or groups have 7 days to adjust to the new shift change. Not everyone's body adjusts to shiftchanges easily.


    April 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  78. Heinz Tran

    CORRECTION: Only in America when you don't do your job as expected where the government step in to add another person to your post. While you are at, can we have another president?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  79. Rose D

    I don't know why this issue is being debated at all. What are they waiting for, a deadly crash? These sleepers need to be fired, plain and simple! They are putting others lives at risk, what more needs to be said? We need dependable alert people to do this job!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  80. Billy

    Sleeping on the job? Air traffick controllers should be fired. It's just as bad as a surgeon falling asleep during an operation...and probably worse.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  81. Garrfy Gust

    Reagan’s Legacy

    Whether an air line controller or a garbage collector, a person cannot possibly have a clear head unless 8 hours of sleep has been had.

    It’s insane to send someone home from work and expect them back again 9 hours later, especially when lives are at stake.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  82. Stan from Altanta

    I travel weekly for work. I am concerned because I take a lot of night flights. With that said. I think that the FAA need to look at adding more controllers and recruiting some fresh blood. I have worked the night shift before and there is that time between 3 am and 5 am were one can get sleepy. So I believe that back up in tower is needed. As far as the controller watching the moving he should be fired. The job requires that strict attention is paid to the radar screen, there is no way that can happen if your watching a movie. It makes you wonder what else is going on that we do not know about?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  83. Bill Paustenbach

    In the military, a guard who falls asleep at his post can be shot. Just saying.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  84. Ali

    Itś time to implement the one- strike- you´re- out rule! Their rest on the job
    can cause unrest in the air. After all, we are all at their mercy when we fly.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  85. Jim G.

    Nine hours between shifts is not enough time. I would prefer to see a shift plan in place for a month minimum over working every shift in one week.

    That said, moving forward, sleeping controllers should get fired. No questions on this one. The 'solution' of adding a second controller to baby sit is simply another case of government waste. I cannot help to feel that the controllers have not been fired because 1) they are unionized and 2) they are government employees.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  86. R Johnson (airline pilot)

    Fatigue is the issue. Fire the people who write the shift schedules, not the controllers. The FAA has long taken a punitive, unscientific approach to fatigue issues. Until they deal with the physiological causes of these incidents they will continue to occur.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  87. Ankur

    This is a matter of public safety. The air traffic controllers should be terminated. They were very lucky that no one was killed, but if this issue isn't handled, who's to say innocent civilians won't die in the future.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  88. steven lowrie

    I was a controller in the UK in the early '70's – young, well trained, and pressured as hell to 'control' the panes in my sector and therefore triple-vigilant. The technology was not anywhere near as advanced as it is today -and I'm not in any way blaming the technology – .but maybe it does breed some sense of entitlement (as seems to be the problem with many in the US these days), and with that, deadly errors can occur. What do you do when someone screws up the way these guys in recent stories have? No question – fire them immediately and then do all you can to discover why any controller, any controller – could make that mistake. We never, never want to see the hellish result of a controller error that would cause collision or crash.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  89. Suzanne Peters

    So now we give them 9 hours! It seems to me that by the time they
    leave, travel home, take a hot shower & key down, they have a limited time to sleep. Maybe we should just hire more people & make it 24 hours
    so we are sure they get some sound seep & not a quick nap.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  90. Keshab

    Like Ronald Reagan, this is the time President Obama should take strong action against those who are negligent in their duties. Fire them and replace with ones who are very sincere in their duties.

    Northern VA

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  91. Robby Robinson


    I am troubled that the controllers themselves are being looked at as the problem as opposed to being a symptom of a problem. Has anyone thought to hold management and cutbacks in funding accountable. It's all about saving that all not so mighty dollar, isn't it ?

    Management mantra: Why pay two employees for an 8 hour day when you can work one to death with a 12 hour shift.
    There are just certain things we should NOT try to save money on or subject to cutbacks, ATC is one of them !!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  92. Bill Kalenda

    Jack of No experience, The first thing you should do is walk in their shoes. Try working a eight hour "OFF SHIFT' and see how you do after One Week.The first thing you will say is IMPOSSIBLE!!!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  93. dean

    9 hours off! you got to be kidding, why not move their beds in there! let them have visitation rights like in prison!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  94. Tom Ball

    Hi Jack,the problem is the fact that we deregulated the Airline Industry in 1980. Since then Unions have lost power and the people working in the Airline Industry are not being propperly compensated. No air traffic controller should work more than eight hours per day or more than 40 hours per week. human beings are not Computers. If you don't want people falling asleep on the Job,you need to pay them more,stop over working them and hire more people.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  95. Andrea, from Brampton, Ontario

    Maybe this is not a rash of events, maybe we are not aware of the many other incidents that have occurred. My suggestion is to overhaul the entire system. What qualifications do you need to become an Air Traffic Controller anyway? Can I apply...I promise not to fall asleep.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  96. Sandra Attig

    Jack, Many years ago the hospitals did a study to find rotating shifts were not productive and affected quality of work. Why hasn't the FAA learned? I worked in a business that had 3 shifts and I know that if you offer a 4 day week at 9.5 hrs for the 3rd shift and a 3 day 10 hr shift solved the problem of "sleeping on the job". Many of the employees would work a straight 7days, splitting the work week, not getting OT and every three months they had mini vacation time and 3.5 days off to get rest and still have a life! This is a no brained!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  97. Ken in NC

    I think many of the situations where only one ATC is on duty is due to fund constraints. Solution to the problem is to decide what is of greater value,life and limb or budget. If it's life and limb then whatever needs to be done to insure the availibility of funds should be done. For the few ATC's that still choose to sleep on the job, allow them a lifetime to sleep at home.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  98. Glenn Davis

    Maybe firing the PATCO air traffic controllers wasn't such a good idea after all.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  99. Terry Danks

    Much hoopla has been made over this.
    The problems shift workers face seem known only to those of us who actually work the nightshift.
    Try it a few times before suggesting a career should be trashed because you fell asleep at 4AM.

    I worked the nightshift for 40 years, more or less, I nodded off a couple of times. Most of us have.As for mandated rest periods, they make sense but there are times when your body just will not go to sleep on command.

    Raising the mandated period from 8 to 9 hours will not accomplish much. For occupations where serious ramifications can result from an employee falling asleep, 16 hours makes more sense. You know . . . like the rest of the population gets!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  100. DC

    Just like any job, immediate boss held responsible, retrain ATC and relook at how policies are enforced. Also look into how policies are being conveyed to the workers (ATCs) and ensure they are understood. This sounds like a policy/procedure problem..although shouldn't allow the workers to not be responsible.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  101. Alvin Carter

    Jack, here is my solution to the air traffic controllers sleeping problem; we need to install loud bull horns in every tower that will automatically go off every half hour after mid-night...asuming that none of these controllers are deaf, it should work. The parts are availabe from Radio Shack, and cost less than 100 bucks.


    April 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  102. Barbara T. - Las Vegas, NV

    These people need to be fired! Give their jobs to those people all over the country who are awake all night worrying because they can't find work. They will appreciate having a job, as these current air traffic controllers do not. If they had any sense of responsibility at all they would understand that they are jeopardizing lives by their actions.

    Oh, and fire their managers too for allowing this to happen.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  103. Michael Aronow

    Fire the lot of them! What kind of organization keep such obviously unsuitable employees and gives them a slap on the wrist.

    There are plenty of willing recruits to fill those spaces, especially in the hard times we face.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  104. Jeffery

    Hi Jack. As for the ATC staff that got caught sleeping on the job, they should be suspended indefinitely w/o pay. If it's done a 2nd then....TERMINATION. However, as for the ATC worker who got caught watching a dvd, then he should be terminated on the spot.

    Jeffery, NY

    April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  105. Jon Mohon

    Am I the only one that thinks it's odd that there is no loud sound or alarm when a 747 is about to land at night with 400 people on it??

    April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  106. EnoAbasi Whitenburg

    Start an apprenticeship program. Give each Air Traffic Controller (ATC) an apprentice to work by his side, keep him awake and learn. Pay the apprentice less and thereby save money. Why have two ATC's being paid to do the work that only requires one just because one might fall asleep. An apprentice will require the ATC to remain alerrt, sharpen his/her skills and will provide a constant pool of young, energetic, learned ATC's to replace those who cannot stay awake.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  107. Flyingwolf, Manchester NH

    Most other 24 hour places, like binderies, mailing houses, 24 hr stores, and call centers have regular 8-hour shifts, like 1st, 2nd & 3rd. Third shift people like myself are natural nightowls–we don't function too well during the day. Instead of having rotating shifts, air traffic control should have standard shifts because nightowls are naturally awake at night. Instead of hiring fewer people and paying thousands in OT pay, they should hire people who are naturally awake at night and just pay a shift differential. Other companies are just fine with that.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  108. George

    After reading and seeing news cast... I think it a work schedule issue... working a week at days, swings, and then graveyard. Talk about screwing up the internal clock. Also shift trades and working back to back shifts. Management made bad policy and work rules on this one.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  109. vic gerken

    give them 16 hrs. off between shifts like all humans used to get

    April 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  110. Bob Mears

    Nine hours between shifts will wear anybody out. I can relate to that working enviorment. It is called a U.S. Naval ship. SHIPS HAVE A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. Controllers have lives with familys. The thought that nine hours off is enough will work...as long as you have no life..... ............ A retired sailor in Arizona.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  111. C Chacko, Hartford, CT

    According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, at least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders. What this means is that unless the ATCs are screened specifically for these conditions, using a very expensive "sleep study" more than one out of ten ATCs are susceptible various kinds of sleep disorders without their realizing it or being able to control it

    April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  112. Kevin

    Do you know that JFK has only about half the number controllers that it is suppose to have. It has about 140-150 on staff and it is suppose to have about 230. If you cut staff, it is going to create problems.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  113. keith in ky.

    Fire them, after all there are plenty of unemployed to take their place.I guess the federal goverment could call it-spreading the the jobs around. If they don't take their job seriously they deserve to be fired.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  114. William Wallace Wolfe

    Hire more Air Traffic Controllers. It should be obvious that this is the best idea for several reasons:

    1. It is not natural for humans to stay awake all night, and it is only harder in a darkened room by oneself. Two people would help each other stay awake.

    2. A second controller would be able to be a backup in case of emergencies or just bathroom breaks.

    3. A majority of the current controllers is about to retire en masse. The second controller could be a trainee.

    4. In these times of mass unemployment, it would be a very good idea to put more people to work.

    Shame on the FAA for being so quick to blame the workers, and not to admit that the problem is with the system itself.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  115. Howie

    . I have been a controller for 23 years and can tell you what is really behind this is a staffing crisis the FAA will not admit. Many controllers are having to work 6 day work weeks and 10 hour days. At my facility we should have 27 certified controllers(work alone) but only have 14. We have 13 trainees that will take 2 to 3 years to certify. The FAA got so desperate to hire controllers they dropped the requirement for a college degree and/or 3 years work experience and began recruiting from high school with newspaper ads. Mandatory retirement at age 56 and controllers currently eligible to retire that are wiped out is becoming a recipe for disaster. Sleepiness, fatigue and errors will only get worse. Controllers are having to work more airplanes(combined sectors, TRACONS combined to tower cabs) with less and more inexperienced controllers.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  116. controller50


    I have been a controller since 1978. we controllers have lived with this goofy compressed watch schedule for years. I just finished a week with two quick turns froms 2-10pm then 6-2pm then 10pm to 6am.
    Adding that extra hour really refreshes me and makes me raring to go for my next shift. We have had reams of sleep studies over the years. Now that the heat is on we might get some real changes. We controllers are a proud workforce that feel a moral obligation to keep you safe, its not just our job. Excuse me while I catch a nap....its my day off.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  117. Gudni Thorsteinsson

    Why not work 8 hours of the 24?More positions in the time of unemployment.G.Th.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  118. Leonard Perez

    I'm an 66 year od ,Viet vet GS-14 NYARTCC ex air traffic controller..
    Enough with La Hood we're investigating incidents.Post 1980 it was commom accepted in house practice that midnight skeleton shifts would after the initial heavy traffic flow,; the skeleton shift would split up and half would sleep or go out of the facility.we all belived in safety and positions were coverd with back up .Im sur the controllers kept after the 1980 job action taught the new hirees the ropes..I could write a book on what went on,that would most likely make ACT'ers unprofessional,,,but believe me safety was always first.....Len/Retired

    April 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  119. Rose Leary

    If I slept on my job, I'd be fired and I'm not responsible for the safety of thousands of people.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  120. Chris

    Put heart rate monitors on them connected to electrodes attached to their chairs that "ZAPS" them with 10,000 volts at 1 milliamp when their heart rate falls to a low (sleep) rate!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  121. Don Caldwell

    We could start by having the media search for the truth instead of letting the talking heads in the DOT spread their political spin. For instance the 8 hr rule was there at the insistense of the FAA to allow them to cover shortages in staffing, not for controllers to get long weekends as reported. Second, what other work force do you know that has an 8 hr rule between shifts? Finally the movie story should be about a stuck mike, the hours of boredom over night, sharks wrong with hacking some sort of entertainment to keep these guys from dozing off?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  122. rev_hedo

    The problem is with the Union- jiggering schedules so they can have 2 jobs– with the air traffic control job being the one they can sleep on!
    Take the sleeping controllers, and hang them upside down next to their Union rep. (Preferably- by the testicles)

    April 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  123. Chris

    The 9000 controller/scabs in a year is also factually incorrect, it took approximately 15 years to build back the ATC system, and only the few early ones ever crossed a picket line. Most were merely hired well after the failed strike was history.

    Auburn, WA

    April 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  124. Pertti Vulli

    Simple and cheap. Install some type of delayed action version of a "dead man's switch" for every controller. If there is no activity in lets say 5 minutes make a beeping sound every few seconds and after a few minutes of no response blast a loud wake up siren and make an automatic call to a regional control center.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  125. Jerry, Overland Park, KS


    Don't put two controllers in the Control Towers for late night support just to keep oneone awake. In addition to a single controller, put a college student, volunteer, or other with the air traffic controllers. This would be low paying job and would assure someone being awake. Also there is some many techical alerts available, let's use the new technology, not adding an on-going excessive payroll expense. We continue to use knee-jerking solutions.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  126. Judie Wm's -- El Lago TX

    Hi Jack...well, the scheduling change is a beginning, however how much REAL sleep does one get even during 9 hours. They leave work, drive home, defuse, etc., and attempt to sleep. How about 12 ?

    Two controllers @ all times, yet with the training period of 2-3 yrs., it will be a while.

    Does the FAA listen to, through their union the controllers concerns ?
    Probably not. Do control towers in other countries face this situation/problem, and how do they handle it ?

    A co worker should not be put in the position of having to report sleeping, yet thank goodness they do. Certainly that does not lend itself to a cohesive enviroment.

    It is no longer "Houston we have a problem"...it is "flying public" we have a problem with your safety. The "greys" are retiring and lack of planning has created this monster.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  127. William X. Smith

    This problem of sleeping controllers is easilly fixed. Allow controllers to bid on their assigned work shift by seniority. By always working that shift as opposed to going from a day to a mid shift, the controller becomes used to the routine and their sleep habits conform to the schedule. The only problem may be proficiency and currency but this can be rectified by quarterly or half yearly proficiency training. Just a thought.. William Smith, Cocoa Beach, Fl. (FAA Controller-RETIRED)

    April 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  128. Carol, Los Angeles, CA

    Why is everyone blaming the controllers? It is the regulations that are at fault here, and if anyone should be suspended or fired, look up higher, to the ones who makes the rules. You cannot fight the human body clock. Stop enacting rules that cannot possibly succeed at all times. When it comes to putting my butt on an airplane, I want to know that the rules will be successful 100% of the time.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  129. James Barker

    Note that there have been no accidents as a result of these incidents. Perhaps a better question is whether we even need air traffic controllers late at night when traffic falls below certain levels.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  130. Jerry, Overland Park, KS

    Don't put two controllers in the Control Towers for late night support just to keep soneone awake. In addition to a single controller, put a college student, volunteer, or other with the air traffic controllers. This would be low paying job and would assure someone being awake. Also there is some many techical alerts available, let's use the new technology, not adding an on-going excessive payroll expense. We continue to use knee-jerking solutions.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  131. Deirdre

    Having put my teenager & husband on a plane this week, I worry if it was the safe thing to do. I don't understand why the FAA is acting like they're the only ones who ever work nights. I haven't worked in a hospital in 30 years but I'm fairly certain that RNs are not sleeping on the job. Hospitals have regulations that govern how shift work is carried out. If a unit is shorthanded, the supervisor will fill the gap. A nurse did not switch to nights w/o a weekend before the change. Also, many nurses( & techs) worked straight nights & had no need for shift rotation. ATC need to model their work after hospitals.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  132. laura nevada

    There are two sides to this story. Air traffic controllers are prima donnas who have insisted on a 3 1/2 day work week which results in a scheduling mess and no way to avoid short turn-around times. On the other hand in the small towers the FAA expects them to sit by themselves in a room for 8 hours with nothing for mental stimulation. No radio, no book, no magazine, only an airplane every few hours. Oh, but wait – they are allowed to read the controllers manual – that's real stimulating! This situation has happened for years with no adverse effects. With today's computerized systems for landing, the FAA is capable of consolidating and letting the larger towers take the calls for the small airports that handle only 4 -5 planes per night. Forget the expense of 2 controllers per tower – it's a waste of money.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  133. Ethan Flower

    Give the poor workers a break! Their contracts are way too strict. Think about it. 9 hours off between shifts of one of the most stressful jobs out there. I dont know where you live but if in a major city like L.A. you have to drive home and drive there and sometimes that journey can take 1 hour each way. Add to that eating meals, ablution and any meager family time, then you get someone who is sleeping about 5 to 6 hrs and feeling very stressed. They should have mandatory 12 hour shift breaks. Period. Until that time all blame should be on the people who write the shift rules.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  134. Tom Bertothy

    The Congress should mandate that air traffic controllers and pilots should have to follow the same Log Book rules that America's truck drivers must follow. The rules are 70 hour max in 7 days, then a mandatory 34hour break. 11hours driving ,14 hours total on duty in a 24 hour period then a mandatory 10 hour break. Trucking accidents are down since these rules became effective. A tired truck driver is a safety
    liability. Surely a tired pilot or air traffic controller is as much or more of a safety liability. The size of the catastrophe when airplanes crash is usually much greater then when a truck crashes. Our government has
    thousands of DOT and Police Officers inspecting trucks and truck drivers
    on a daily basis to protect the public. Should the same effort be placed on regulating air traffic controllers and pilots to also protect the public?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  135. Sherry Graham

    Performance Improvement professionals are taught that most errors are not the result of single individual and while the easy answer is to blame an individual and hold the individual soley accountable for an organizational problem it will not support a sustainable resolution to the problem.

    It appears that the night shift contollers are working alone- there is research that have concluded 1. High Risk roles should not be performed without backup. 2. It also appears that some controllers are working past 8 hours and the research has also concluded that every hour past 10 decreaes reflects and cognitive ability and after 12 hours the studies compare the reflects and reactions of someone who is legally intoxicated.
    So who is planning the schedules and how are the traffic controllers being supported?

    No Jack I travel all the time and i think if we have to hold someone accountable lets go up the latter to the senior excecutive staff and get some resolution to their staffing model..

    April 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  136. Brian, San Diego, CA

    A few simple changes would make a world of difference. First, multiple people in the towers at all times; it's insane that any person should be thrown into this stressful a job alone. Second, require the controllers to punch in an "I'm here" code every 15-20 minutes to show they're awake (this same system is used for train engineers), but make sure talking to a flight counts for the check-in, as well. Third, change the shift schedules so the controllers aren't exhausted before they even go to work. And most importantly...let's make sure we GET THE FACTS before we make sweeping changes – Jack, the First Lady's plane was still 3 miles behind the plane in front of it; while that's closer than the regulation requires, I would hardly call it "dangerously close".

    April 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  137. Bonnie


    I find it incredulous that these "incicents" never happened before. I think a more interesting question is, why are they being reported now?


    April 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  138. Steven in Denver

    Apparently Canada tried adding a controller to overnight sgifts, but that in itself was not sufficient: sometimes both people went to sleep! Adding another person would be helpful if, despite management's aversion to "paying people to sleep," one controller could remain alert while the other took a 20-minute "power nap" every 4 to 8 hours. Pilots do that on long flights, so why not controllers?
    It is also important, according to decades of sleep research, that if workers rotate shifts it be done according to a natural rotation that fiollows the clock. That is, one should move from a day shift to an evening ("twiliight") shift to an overnight ("graveyard") shift, in that order only. Workers also need to be able to stick with one shift for weeks or months, so that they can more naturally adapt their sleep patterns. Frequent rotating of work shifts produces lack of alertness, greater fatigue and lower productivity.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  139. Deirdre

    I would like to know if the shortage of controllers is traceable to the firing of 11,000 striking workers by Reagan in the 80's?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  140. William DeBuvitz

    The FAA should have the airports install a device like a "Dead Man's Switch" or "Vigilance Control" in the control towers. These devices are used on trains, subways, etc. to check that the operator is conscious and at attention. The type that could be installed in control towers could beep and flash a two digit number. The operator would then have to respond within a certain length of time and input the number on a keyboard. If the operator does not respond, an alarm would go off, alerting other people in the tower. This device would only operate after a period of silence on the controllers' microphones, indicating that the controller is idle.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  141. Jack McNaughton

    Jack, I know I'm too late for the response to your question concerning the Air Traffic Controller situation, but here goes. Why not rehire some of the controllers fired by Ronald Reagan? At our age, we're up all night anyway! Jack McNaughton, Amherst,Ohio.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  142. Bryan (New York)

    I think it is clear they should fire these guys and privatize the Federal Aviation Administration. Private companies are much more efficient than government and they have more of an incentive to protect their customers because they will lose money if they don't. Just look at all the money Toyota lost the last couple of years. A privatized FAA would set up a work schedule and a system that would ensure these workers didn't fall asleep on the job because they would lose customers if they didn't.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm |

    I AM SIC OF IT!!! You people have not 1 clue how our ATC system works. There is nothing unsafe about it! Many flites terminate or orginate with out ATC . Y? There is no need and safety is not compromised.
    A pilot for over 30years and a son of a retired ATC controller and believe me our system is safe.

    Give us all a break... Michelles plane was a mere 1500 feet TOO close? What if it was John Does plane... Would there be an issue?

    April 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  144. Lori

    Put video cameras in the control towers, linked to the FAA headquarters!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  145. robert weimer

    We went from 11,000 in 1980s to 9,000 that a loss of 2000! I am sure the air traffic is worse than what it was in the 1980s. Also I am sure they are trying to cover this loss of 2,000 and increase in air traffic by scheduling. I don't think they are doing a very good job. Also is 9 hours off between shifts, that is really dumb and did any one also pick up on the statement that it is the same 9 hours off for pilots, you have to be kidding me! Pilots and air traffic controllers with 100s of peoples life’s in their hands with less than 8 hrs sleep when you figure in driving time and eating time someone needs to wake up, and it’s not the air traffic controllers, its management!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  146. Lori

    I agree with Bradley, Portland, OR April 20th, 2011 2:15 pm ET

    First of all, they need to have two or more people in the tower at all times, day or night. It's ridiculous that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have only one person there.

    Secondly, they need to stop flip-flopping schedules where you work a night shift, and then 9 hours later you're working a day shift. Your body's clock can't make the change that fast.

    If someone's going to work the night shift, have them do it for at least a week, and let people have a couple of days off, like a weekend, to readjust before shifting them back to days.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  147. Cant believe

    Having served with many ATC personnel in many facilities throughout the years, let me tell you that the "sleeping on duty" as been going on for many years. When more than one is on duty, one sleeps, the other has duty.This was my experience back in the early 70's until just lately when I left. In many facilities, controllers have break periods nearly equal to the work periods..ie, work an hour, break, work an hour, break, etc. The remedy is not more night shift controllers, because there is ample time for rest from the day shift (6-2 usually) until the mid. Most controllers LIKE the compressed work week because they get much more time off than most folks. 4-12 (or 3-11) first day, 2-10, 8-4, 6-2, mid. Then the rest of day 5 off, followed by 2 full days off, and back in on the 4th day at 3 or 4. some folks would kill for that time of work week. Pay is good, better than most, and retirement is good. More discipline is needed, and time to reign in the union a little. This is not bitter talk, just 30+ years of observation in every arena of ATC from bottom to top. The word primma-donna comes to mind. Fire a few and sleeping will stop, I promise. Somebody in this blog talked about 14 hour shifts, etc. There are no shifts longer than 8 hours or the union demands OT. There are no breaks between shifts shorter than 8 hours. That seems like a short time, but believe me, that is what most controllers want.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  148. barry

    A lot of the talk about instituting a "two-man rule." Most two-man rule I've known don't work as desired.

    Back when computer instructions were input on punched cards, to prevent errors one keypunch operator would type the alphanumeric symbols to be punched on Hollerith cards. The punched cards would then be put into a verifying machine where a second keypunch operator would repeat the typing. The machine would alert that operator of any discrepancy. The problem with the system was the verifying typist would assume that she was the one who had made an error in typing and send the card through to the computer.

    At one factory working on high value material, protection against a malevolent insider included a rule that one person could never be alone in the facility. But in practice the second person had her own job to do and payed little attention to what the other person was doing.

    Two people working together away from everyone else tend to develop camaraderie. How many friends would snitch on another?

    Who should pay for doubling the night time staffing? Each shift needs training and replacements to cover vacation and sick days.

    Reagan National restricts traffic after 9:59 p.m. and before 7:00 a.m in order to allow the politicians to sleep without noise disturbance. So the amount of activity the on-duty controller has is relatively limited. Maybe there are long stretches with nothing to do but stare at a lank screen.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  149. greg lancaster,tx

    give thanks to the great ronald reagen. this all started when he declared war on unions by firing all of the air traffic controllers. It is of course consistent with republican thought that they are philosopically opposed to paying workers for their labor. They have turned the very term working class into a perjorative. If you want to run airports all night pay for two controllers or more depending on the level of traffic.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  150. Cheryl Furst

    If I had a job that required me to work 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and had to be back by 2 a.m. for my next shift, I wouldn't be able to think straight. Why don't they give these people a shift that remains the same from one day to the next? Flexible hours are okay for people who don't have to make a lot of critical decisions. Air traffic controllers, on the other hand, have to make life-and-death ones. They need their sleep!

    April 20, 2011 at 5:56 pm |