Traffic Controller Admits He Was Asleep On The Job

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — There’s new fallout from this week’s incident at Reagan National Airport, where an air traffic controller now admits he was asleep on the job while two pilots were trying to land.

Mary Bubala reports a preliminary investigation shows the Reagan controller’s radio went silent for 33 minutes.

The FAA has now suspended him from his job.

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

So does Congressman Andy Harris, a member of the House Transportation Committee, which is planning a formal review.

“We have to make sure that someone in the middle of night who is doing an important job is awake,” he said.

 The air traffic controller, a 20-year veteran with a clean record, admitted he fell asleep sometime just after 11:55 p.m.

At 12:04 a.m. an American Airlines jet couldn’t reach him and was forced to abort its approach.  The jet reached out instead to a regional controller 40 miles away who tried to call the tower.

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

The American pilots had to land essentially unassisted. So did a United flight 15 minutes later, which was able to reach the tower once it was on the ground.

Reagan National, which has light overnight traffic, has had just one controller on the midnight shift since 2002.

After Wednesday’s incident they’ve added a second.

The suspended controller had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift. Federal investigators are now examining the effects of fatigue on the controller.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association tells WJZ there are 30 towers nationwide with one overnight shift worker. BWI has two overnight controllers in its tower.

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