Friday, March 25, 2011

How to keep a government employee from falling asleep on the job - Hire one to keep him awake.

A government employee was caught sleeping on the job. 

The air traffic controller suspended for failing to respond to two planes heading into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has told investigators that he had fallen asleep, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The controller, a 20-year veteran, "indicated that he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty," according to a statement released Thursday by the safety board. "He had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.)."
"Human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated," the statement read.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said earlier Thursday that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident and that the air traffic controller has been suspended from all operational duties.

You gotta love the phrase "Human Fatigue Issues" in place of "sleepy".  It's right up there with "Kinetic Military Action" in place of "Blowing Up Arabs". Here's Hot Air with some more detail on what happened.  

The control tower at Reagan National Airport went silent early Wednesday, forcing the pilots of two airliners carrying a total of 165 passengers and crew members to land on their own.
he tower, which normally is staffed by one air-traffic controller from midnight to 6 a.m., did not respond to pilot requests for landing assistance or to phone calls from controllers elsewhere in the region, who also used a “shout line,” which pipes into a loudspeaker in the tower, internal records show.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 flying in from Miami with 97 people on board circled the airport after receiving no response from the tower at midnight. Minutes later, a United Airlines Airbus 320 flying in from Chicago with 68 people on board also got no answer from the tower.

Here's the Bureau of Labor Statistics on who this dude worked for:

Air traffic controllers held about 26,200 jobs in 2008. The vast majority were employed by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), while a small number of civilian controllers also work for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Here's your obligatory statement of outrage from Federal Aviation Administration Chief Bruce Babbitt:

"In my 25 years as a professional airline pilot, I've never seen anything happen like this. "I am outraged by it," Babbitt said. "We're going to make sure something like this never happens again."

Here's why Babbitt and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood need to get their shit together:

-- A March 23, 2006, incident in which a Chicago air traffic controller cleared a plane to take off from a runway on which, 15 seconds earlier, he had cleared another aircraft to cross. The pilot of the departing plane stopped when he saw the other craft in the taxiway intersection. The controller told investigators he had slept only four hours during a nine-hour break between shifts.

-- An August 19, 2004, incident in which a Los Angeles controller cleared one passenger jet to take off and another to land on a runway at the same time. The pilot in the landing aircraft noticed the other on the runway and pulled his plane up 12 seconds before they would have collided. The controller said he had slept five or 6 hours before coming to work.

-- A September 25, 2001, incident in which a Denver air traffic controller approved a request from a cargo plane pilot to take off from a runway that had been closed for construction. The aircraft came within 32 feet of hitting lights that had been installed in the construction zone. The controller said he'd slept only two hours between work days.

-- A July 8, 2001, incident in which a Denver controller cleared one passenger plane to cross a runway where another was about to land. The landing pilot hit the brakes, stopping 810 feet from the other plane. The controller said he had worked three shifts in two days.

Here's why Canada doesn't have so many problems with Air Traffic Control, according to the International Air Transport Association.  Their air traffic is supervised by an outfit called Nav Canada:

Nav Canada is a global leader in the efficient implementation and reliable delivery of air traffic control procedures and technologies. It actively engages its customers at all levels in regular and meaningful consultations. “The performance of Nav Canada has been enhanced by the right technical and operational investments following extensive cost/benefit analyses. Nav Canada’s effective management has allowed the company to reduce its charges in 2006 and 2007, and freeze them at that level ever since,” Bisignani said.

Here's the Cato Institute on what's so special about Nav Canada:

Unlike the government-run ATC system in the U.S., Nav Canada is a privately run, not-for-profit corporation. As a Cato essay on privatization explains, the U.S. system leaves a lot to be desired while the private Canadian system has been a tremendous success:

The Federal Aviation Administration has been mismanaged for decades and provides Americans with second-rate air traffic control. The FAA has struggled to expand capacity and modernize its technology, and its upgrade efforts have often fallen behind schedule and gone over budget…The GAO has had the FAA on its watch list of wasteful "high-risk" agencies for years…Canada privatized its ATC system in 1996. It set up a private, nonprofit ATC corporation, Nav Canada, which is self-supporting from charges on aviation users. The Canadian system has received high marks for sound finances, solid management, and investment in new technologies.

So are Babbitt and LaHood considering privatizing the FAA?  Are they going to admit basic incompetence and let us save some money by following the Canadian model?  Naw.  That's not in their DNA. 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered the FAA on Wednesday to schedule two controllers on the overnight shift.

Yeah.  If one government employee is failing, the only solution is to hire more.  Always, always, always, hire more. 

Pics came from here and here and here. 

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