Air Traffic Controller Sleeps as Medical Plane Tries To Land

For the third time in almost as many weeks, reports have surfaced of an air traffic controller falling asleep at his post. This time, in Reno, a medical plane carrying a sick passenger had to land without tower assistance in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Something's seriously wrong here.

First came word that an ATC tower at Reagan National was abandoned for at least half an hour. Then reports that a Knoxville air traffic controller took a nap—on purpose—while seven aircraft attempted to land. And now the Reno incident, a 16 minute gap in coverage that came at 2 AM, when an air ambulance needed to deliver its cargo to doctors as soon as humanly possible.

That plane touched down safely, thanks to contact with Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control. And the other incidents didn't result in anything more than inconvenience and worry. But pushing tin is a tremendously sensitive job, one that's vitally important to the lives thousands of people every single day. And any accident that results from ATC being out of touch would be a disastrous one.

So what's the fix? The FAA has finally mandated that the midnight shift be manned by a minimum of two people at every tower that operates overnight. And meanwhile there will be investigations and inquiries. Which may well be enough! Still, let's hope they're being overly overly overly cautious. We've been fortunate so far—but we shouldn't be pressing our luck. [LVJR]