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FAA chief 'infuriated' by sleeping air traffic controllers

By the CNN Wire Staff
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New rules for air traffic controllers
  • NEW: FAA officials, union representatives begin a cross-country tour in Atlanta
  • NEW: FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says mistakes "will not be tolerated"
  • The FAA reported a seventh case of a controller asleep on the job this year
  • Controllers now must have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts

Atlanta (CNN) -- Top officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers' union kicked off a cross-country tour of air traffic control facilities on Monday, two days after a seventh reported case this year of a controller falling asleep on the job.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, are expected to hold a series of meetings about safety and professionalism. Their first stop was at a radar facility in the Atlanta area.

"None of us in this business can tolerate any of this," Babbitt said of the sleeping controllers. "It absolutely has to stop. ... One mistake is one too many."

This "will not be tolerated," he insisted. "We run the safest system in the world," but these incidents have "cast a cloud."

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Babbitt described himself as "infuriated" after learning about the lapses.

"Any time (there) is less than perfection, we have issues," Rinaldi added.

"It's a very big concern," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday. "We will do better."

Federal officials announced a series of new regulations Saturday aimed at preventing air traffic controllers from falling asleep while on duty.

Among other things, controllers now must have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts, instead of the current minimum of eight hours. In addition, controllers can no longer be put on an unscheduled midnight shift following a day off.

If the shift from eight to nine hours isn't enough, "then obviously we'll take that into consideration," LaHood said. But it's up to the controllers "to take personal responsibility" and get adequate rest during their down time, he said.

FAA managers will also schedule their own shifts in a way to ensure greater coverage in the early morning and late night hours, the secretary noted over the weekend.

On Saturday, the FAA suspended an air traffic controller for sleeping on the job at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center.

According to a preliminary review of air traffic tapes, the controller did not miss any calls from aircraft, and there was no operational impact, the agency said in a statement. The incident was reported to a manager by another controller, the FAA said. There were 12 controllers and two managers on duty at the time.

Last week, the head of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, Hank Krakowski, resigned over the uproar caused by the recent spate of incidents. David Grizzle, the FAA's chief counsel, has been named acting chief of the unit.

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Aside from Miami, cases of sleeping controllers have been reported in Washington; Knoxville, Tennessee; Seattle and Reno, Nevada. There have been two suspected cases in Lubbock, Texas.

All of the incidents occurred during controllers' midnight shifts. Most of the lapses occurred at local control towers.

In at least one incident, the FAA has said, the controller deliberately went to sleep, while some of the others appear to have been accidental.

CNN's Mike Ahlers and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.