An air traffic controller at Reagan International Airport working a night shift alone was asleep when two airliners radioed in to land. After trying unsuccessfully to reach the tower, the pilot made contact with a regional facility that also attempted to contact the controller. A staffer from the regional facility called the pilot back to say that the Reagan tower was apparently “not manned”. Eventually, both pilots landed safely while the air traffic controller soundly snoozed.
First, it’s interesting that the regional facility said the tower was “not manned”. What if the controller had been a woman? He could have said the tower was neither manned nor womaned, or unmanned or unwomaned. I am sure there are women air traffic controllers, maybe not many, but surely there are some. In this incident, though, it’s a moot point – the controller in fact was a man, a supervisor who admitted to being asleep at the controls as it were after working his fourth overnite shift. I suppose better to fall asleep at the controls at midnight, than asleep at the wheel of airliner, which has also happened. Remember the flight crew that overshot their destiny because they had dozed off?
This is certainly a troubling development and speaks to bad working conditions. There should always be at least two controllers on duty in most towers, especially one as busy as Reagan International. Why there was only one is a mystery, and I’m not sure who to blame. I think the unions have already jumped on this, as they should, to prevent it from happening again. Though I have sympathy for the controller, he should be disciplined, and indeed has been. Whether he should be fired or not, is not for me to decide. Clearly they system that allowed this man to work 4 overnight shifts in a row must be reexamined.
Now for a little fun.
Top 6 Reasons Air Traffic Controller was unavailable:
Number 6. Watching episode of Swamp People on History.
Number 5. Updating Twitter profile.
Number 4. Did not like the tone of the pilot’s voice.
Number 3. Feuding with flight attendant who had previously not delivered on promise of free bag of peanuts.
Number 2. Testing new BOSE noise canceling headphones.
Number 1. Playing a game of Angry Birds on the Radar screen.