Saturday, April 27, 2013

FAA Orders Air Traffic Controllers Awake

by Jenn Lane
April 18, 2011

RENO – After a string of recent reports of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job, the FAA has begun implementing new guidelines aimed at helping employees stay focused and alert during the overnight shift.  

The FAA has already mandated an extra air traffic controller work the third shift in 27 airports previously staffed by a single worker. 

“In order to ensure public safety, we feel that having two controllers working overnight is in everyone’s best interest,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi.  “The second controller’s primary responsibility will be to jab the first controller with a stick should he start to nod off.”

“We wanted to equip them with air horns, but our psychologists said no,” Rinaldi added.    

Doug Adamian, an air traffic controller at New York’s LaGuardia airport for seventeen years, said adding a second person to the shift would also allow for bathroom breaks, a situation that had previously been difficult for controllers working alone.

“There are no bathrooms up there,” said Adamian of the room controllers work from.  “So what I do is get an extra-large iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.  Then, after I drink it, BINGO, I’ve got an empty cup I can fill up.  Doesn’t work so well if you’ve got to go number two though.  So now it’s good to have a number two. Ha! Get it?”

Other changes being proposed by the FAA to discourage employees from falling asleep during overnight shifts include banning comfort items such as pajamas, blankies, and teddy bears, as well as prohibiting  late-night viewings of sleep-inducing television shows such as This Old House, The Joy of Painting, and High Stakes Poker.  A policy requiring mandatory coffee IVs for each third shift employee was recently rejected on grounds that it was not cost effective, given the high price of coffee.

The changes come on the heels of six different reports of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job.  A February report out of Knoxville, TN cited a controller who fell asleep after building himself a makeshift bed out of cushions on the floor.  While calls to the controller in question remained unanswered, a neighbor told reprters that the case was simply a misunderstanding. 

“He wasn’t making a bed,” offered Lydia Duarte-Thompson.  “He was building a fort.  He was bored; how many planes do you think are landing in Tennessee in the middle of the night anyway?  Not many.”

Outrage over these dangerous incidents has extended all the way to Washington, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. both calling for changes to be implemented swiftly to prevent further problems. 

Vice-President Joe Biden, however, who recently fell asleep himself during a speech by President Obama on the federal deficit, expressed compassion for the sleepy air traffic controllers.  

“Sometimes it’s hard to stay awake at work,” Biden commented.  “I get it.” 

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