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Watching DVD player gets 2 Cleveland air traffic officials suspended

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Controller catches flick at work
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: FAA suspends Cleveland air traffic controller for watching movie "Cleaner" on duty
  • Agency also suspends manager of air control center
  • FAA officials, union representatives begin a cross-country tour in Atlanta
  • FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says mistakes "will not be tolerated"

Atlanta (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announced the suspension of a Cleveland air traffic controller and a front line manager after the controller was discovered watching a movie on a portable DVD player while on the job.

The announcement coincides with the Monday launch in Atlanta of a nationwide tour by top FAA officials and union representatives, to discuss professionalism and safety at air traffic control centers.

It also comes after the agency suspended a Miami controller on Saturday for falling asleep while directing air traffic.

The Cleveland incident occurred early Sunday morning, according to an FAA statement. The agency stated that the controller was watching a DVD while working a radar position at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center.

"For a little more than three minutes, the controller's microphone was inadvertently activated, transmitting the soundtrack of the movie over the radio frequency for that airspace," the statement read. "The problem was brought to air traffic control's attention by the pilot of a military aircraft using an alternate frequency."

The FAA forbids the use of video players and other devices on the radar room floor, according to the statement.

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An FAA official, speaking on background, confirmed that the movie the Air Traffic Controller was listening to was "Cleaner," a 2007 movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and Eva Mendes.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has not commented on the Cleveland DVD incident, though he has repeatedly voiced outrage over the problem of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job.

"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," said Babbit in Atlanta on Monday.

Federal officials have announced a series of new regulations 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," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. 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.

To date, the FAA has suspended seven controllers for failing to stay awake at work.

LaHood called the fatigue experienced by overworked controllers "a very big concern."

He vowed, "We will do better."

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 Greg Clary contributed to this report