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Second air traffic controller to be added to midnight shift

April 14, 2011 12:08:01 AM PDT
The Federal Aviation Administration announced that additional air traffic controllers will be staffed on the midnight shift effective immediately.

The decision was in response to news that an air traffic controller at Reno-Tahoe International Airport fell asleep while a medical flight carrying a sick patient was trying to land on Wednesday at about 2 a.m. The controller was suspended.

A medical flight crew carrying sick patients was forced to land without assistance after an air traffic controller nodded off.

Unable to get an answer from the traffic controller, the pilot had to make a tough decision.

"Got some pretty sick patients, we make just have to land, whether we have clearance or not," the pilot can be heard on tape.

The incident was the fifth lapse this year for controllers at U.S. airports. Other similar lapses happened in Seattle; Lubbock, Texas; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Washington.

  • Two jetliners landed at Washington's Reagan National Airport last month without tower assistance after the lone air traffic supervisor fell asleep.
  • The FAA said an air traffic controller was caught sleeping on the job in February during the midnight shift at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn.
  • A controller in Seattle had been suspended for falling asleep during a morning shift on Monday. The controller already faced punishment for falling asleep on two other occasions during an evening shift in January, the FAA said.
  • Two controllers in Lubbock, Texas, were suspended after two failed handoffs two weeks ago.

"I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. "The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our No. 1 priority and I am committed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected."

The controller at Reno-Tahoe International Airport was out of communication for about 16 minutes, the FAA said. No injuries were reported.

The FAA order affects 27 control towers that staffs one controller during the midnight shift. In California, it will affect the Ontario, Burbank, San Diego and Sacramento airports.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.