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FAA to Fire Second Air-Traffic Controller Who Slept on Duty

April 6 (Bloomberg) -- A second U.S. air-traffic controller who slept on an overnight shift, this time on purpose, is in the process of being fired, Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said.

“It wasn’t fatigue-related,” Babbitt said in an interview. “This is someone who, in our investigation, just went in and prepared to go to sleep, take a nap, and that’s absolutely not acceptable.”

The incident occurred at the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, on February 19, the agency said in an e-mailed statement after Babbitt’s interview.

The airport has two facilities on separate floors, a radar room and the tower, each of which is staffed by one controller on the midnight shift. One controller had to do both jobs, handling seven aircraft over a five-hour period, after the other controller failed to respond, the agency said. All seven planes landed safely, it said.

Babbitt first mentioned the incident, without specifying details, in comments to the House Appropriations Committee’s transport panel today in Washington.

The possibility of controllers sleeping became a concern after a lone worker on duty at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport tower told investigators he dozed off March 23 after midnight, before two planes carrying a combined 154 people landed. That controller, a supervisor, has been suspended.

Babbitt, in the interview, said he learned during the investigation of the Reagan incident that disciplinary proceedings were underway regarding the other controller who slept on duty.

Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union for the Knoxville worker, said, “We continue to be concerned with safe staffing on the midnight shifts and are working collaboratively with the FAA to determine appropriate staffing levels at all facilities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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