WASHINGTON (WJZ)—An air traffic controller admits he was sleeping as two planes tried to land at nearby Reagan National airport. The FAA is now looking to make sweeping changes.

Kelly McPherson explains what’s being done.

The FAA is now reviewing all air traffic control schedules, hoping to learn from this potentially dangerous situation.

Just after midnight Wednesday at Reagan National Airport in D.C., two planes landed without any communication with the air traffic controller. The one person working didn’t respond to pilots or other air traffic controllers:

“American 1012 called couple times on a landline and tried to call on a commercial line and there was no answer.”

“I fly every day, almost every day. I need the air traffic controllers to be awake,” said Jamie Washington, frequent flyer.

The controller in question is a supervisor with a clean record for more than 20 years who says he fell asleep working his fourth consecutive overnight shift; that’s working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“I appreciate that people can be tired, but that feels like a regular shift and that was two hours in,” Washington said.

Some wonder why no one else was in the tower to either wake up the controller or take over.

“I know that flights slow down overnight there in that airport.  They need to have more than one person,” Susan Davis said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says there are 30 towers nationwide with one overnight shift worker.

The association says a deadly 2006 crash in Lexington, Kentucky is an example of what can happen with only one person in the tower.

BWI-Marshall airport already has two overnight workers.

After this incident, the FAA has demanded Reagan airport add a second person.

“As a professional pilot for more than 25 years, I am outraged by this and we have an investigation and we will get to the bottom of this. I wanna know why this happened,” said Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator.

The Air Traffic Control Association says its contract has language that forbids solo workers. The nearest tower that still has that overnight policy is in Richmond.

None of the 165 people on board the two planes was injured.

The controller has been suspended.

Comments (8)
  1. Herman Glimsher says:


  2. susan says:

    Kudos to those pilots landing their aircraft with no one getting hurt.

    1. Brian says:

      The responsible action for the pilots was to divert to an airport nearby such as washington/dulles airport. They broke FAA regulations by landing without a landing clearance. They KNOWINGLY put those passengers lives in danger, no kudo’s. I hope they receive as harsh a punishment as the controller for making a poor command decision.

      1. Bernard Mc Kernan says:

        The pilot had to take a dump & was in a big hurry.

  3. EK says:

    As a retired air traffic controller, I can tell you that this happens FAR more often than you’d like to think it does!

  4. moleman says:

    Regan National is probably one of the most dangerous & shortest runways in the country. One reason they can’t land the big jets there. It is basically a commuter airport for our cherished pampered politicians.

  5. baltobikeboi says:

    Gee, isn’t it IRONIC that it was President REAGAN that fired all those air traffic controllers in a union a while back there when they demanded better pay and working conditions. And now they’re asleep at the controls at the airport named after him. Nice work Republicans. Let’s see what this does to Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio etc…

  6. Chakrapani Dahal says:

    we should revise working schedule of Air Traffic Controller working all round the world because this is not only the case of USA but for other’s too.

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