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Air traffic controller suspended at Reagan Airport after apparently falling asleep on duty

March 24, 2011|From Times wire reports

An air traffic controller who failed to respond to two incoming planes at Ronald Reagan National Airport has been suspended, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Earlier today, officials said that the airport would increase staffing after the lone air traffic controller on duty apparently fell asleep.

Two passenger planes -- an American Airlines flight and a United Airlines flight -- approaching the Washington D.C.-area airport were unable to raise the airport tower by radio Tuesday night. Both flights landed without incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered the FAA to add another controller to the night shift at the airport.

Aviation safety experts said the safety risk was minimum as the air traffic is light at that time of night and that pilots could use the towers radio frequency to advise other planes of their intent to land.

Still, the incident raises a longstanding concern among air traffic controllers: fatigue.

"You have to watch your schedules to make sure (controllers) have adequate rest," said former NTSB board member John Goglia said. "It's worse when nothing is going on. When it's busy, you have to stay engaged. When it's quiet, all they have to be is a little bit tired and they'll fall asleep."

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