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New Measures to Prevent Airline Crashes Caused by Sleeping Air Traffic Controllers

July 02, 2011

American Airlines flight 1012 was recently on final approach to Washington's Reagan Airport at just a few minutes past midnight on Wednesday when the pilot had to abandon the descent due to the fact that no one in the airport tower was responding.

Fifteen minutes later a second aircraft, United Airlines flight 628T, that was also trying to land, faced an unresponsive tower as well. As it turns out, the sole air traffic controller on duty had fallen asleep. This was just one of 8 incidents of controllers falling asleep while on duty that has now been made public.

Fortunately, these incidents did not result in a mid-air crash or other type of airline accident, but the FAA is now making changes to prevent sleeping air traffic controllers from causing future airline crashes. If you or someone you love has been involved in an airline crash, contact Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, to learn about your rights to compensation for your injuries or the loss of a loved one.

It is hard to believe that in some of the airports around the country there is only one person on duty in the air traffic control tower at an airport that handles a substantial amount of air traffic. Although this minimal approach to staffing typically is used only between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am, it still doesn't make sense in terms of safety.

As far back as 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board sent a letter of warning about air traffic controllers and their lack of sleep time. It stated things like, "Controllers are sometimes working when they are significantly fatigued...and are committing fundamental errors..." "The NTSB is concerned about the lack of FAA action on this issue..."

It should be apparent that some of the scheduling procedures that the FAA has in place are not working very well. Currently, there is a mandatory 8 hours off required between shifts for controllers. The controllers also have the right to switch shifts with other controllers, which may be contributing to working too long without a sufficient rest period. Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary has indicated that the air traffic controllers themselves need to take responsibility for coming to the job well rested. This is the air traffic controller’s primary responsibility according to LaHood.

The FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association are now on a tour of the country and its airports to meet with air traffic controllers. The training tour will emphasize the fact that sleeping on the job is not acceptable and creates an unreasonable risk of causing an airline collision. New regulations governing rest and scheduling that are being set out by the FAA will also be introduced.

Under the new rules, the mandatory number of hours between shifts will increase from 8 hours to 9 hours. Managers are going to be required to move some of their hours into late nights and early mornings. Workers will no longer be allowed to work shifts that combine too many nights in a row. The FAA also plans to address the issue of only having only one man in a tower. It has now acknowledged that this is unacceptable and will be adding more controllers to fill the gap.

Even though chronic fatigue seems to be at the heart of this seriously life-threatening situation, Ray LaHood has stated again and again that the FAA will not pay controllers to nap. The FAA currently forbids any sleeping on the job for these controllers, even during their breaks! If a controller is caught sleeping on their break, they can be fired.

It would seem that if there is a choice between an air traffic controller falling asleep at the controls while on the clock, as opposed to falling asleep in a chair while he is on break, it might be better to let him fall asleep on a break. Even if these controllers do show up to the job well-rested, the task of sitting in front of computer controls for any length of time, especially for long periods of time with no activity, could make anyone drowsy. Sleeping on the job is happening now according to some controllers. It is an open secret within the agency that if two controllers are on duty at the same time, one will catch a nap while the other one will do both of their jobs, and vice versa.

The bottom line is that there needs to be redundancy in the system given the enormous danger involved in a crash involving a major airliner. There has to be a controller watching another controller's back to prevent fatal airline crashes. The idea of letting the controllers take controlled naps should also be explored. Safety experts are advocating this very thing.

Scientific studies have shown that small "power" naps where a person slips into a rested consciousness can do wonders for a person's alertness levels. As taxpayers we currently pay emergency personnel like firemen to sleep. They are being paid wages while they are on duty even while they are sleeping and not fighting fires. Given the enormous responsibility of air traffic controllers to prevent airplane crashes, it would seem prudent for officials to at least explore all possibilities for making air travel safer.

At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we are committed to providing our clients with exceptional service. We believe you expect and deserve the best legal representation a law firm has to offer. Our Georgia airline crash attorneys are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333) or visit us on the web at No matter where you are in Georgia, we are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

Category: Personal Injury

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