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LaHood stresses 'responsibility' after latest control tower fiasco

By Jim Barnett, CNN Senior Producer
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: LaHood says officials should "keep harping" on personal responsibility
  • NEW: A controller in Ohio and his supervisor have been suspended
  • The controller was watching "Cleaner," a Samuel L. Jackson thriller, early Sunday
  • Audio went out on a radio frequency, was reported to air traffic control by military pilot

Washington (CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday said federal officials need to "keep harping" on personal responsibility in the wake of the latest claim of inattention by an air traffic controller -- this one reportedly was watching a movie while on duty -- and inaction by his supervisor.

The controller has been suspended, pending an investigation, for watching a movie on a portable electronic device while he was working at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin, Ohio. His front-line manager, who was aware of it and didn't stop him, also was suspended, LaHood confirmed.

The incident occurred early Sunday morning, when the audio from the Samuel L. Jackson thriller "Cleaner" was transmitted over a radio frequency for more than three minutes.

"The problem was brought to air traffic control's attention by the pilot of a military aircraft using an alternate frequency," according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA policy prohibits the use of portable DVD players and other devices from being used in radar rooms.

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Stories of derelict controllers keep piling up, even as the head of the FAA and the leader of the controllers' union started a cross-country tour to spread the gospel of professionalism to the rank and file.

There have now been incidents in Washington; Knoxville, Tennessee; Reno, Nevada; Seattle; Lubbock, Texas; and Miami in just the past couple of months.

Scheduling rules have been adjusted and staffing beefed up to mitigate fatigue among controllers, but in the Ohio incident, fatigue does not appear to have been the issue.

Personal responsibility "really needs to become much more part of our training," LaHood told CNN, "much more of what our (FAA) administrator says to controllers as he travels the country and meets with them.

"I meet with controllers a lot, too, when I travel the country. I visit air traffic control towers and I guarantee it will be part of my message."

Pressed to explain why such incidents keep happening in spite of officials' insistence that the situation will not be tolerated, LaHood said, "Well, it won't be."

"We've done some things here in the short term like extending rest time from eight to nine hours. We've moved supervisors into positions where we think it's more important to have more supervisors,"

"And we will continue to do what we have to do to make sure the controllers understand they have to take personal responsibility for this most important safety job they have," he said,.

CNN Jeanne Meserve, Mike Ahlers, Carol Cratty and Cameron Tankersley contributed to this report.