By Erik Wasson
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Sunday announced the details of changes that his department is making to air traffic controller schedules after another controller fell asleep on the job this weekend.
LaHood on "Fox News Sunday" said that three changes will be made by the Federal Aviation Administration: First, the rest period between shifts will be extended from eight hours to nine hours. Second, more managers will be required to be on duty in the early and late hours. Finally, controllers will no longer be able to switch shifts in order to get a long weekend.
“I've been in this job, two-and-a-half years,” LaHood said. “I don't know when I've ever been madder.”
LaHood lashed out at controllers during the interview.
“Controllers need to take personal responsibility for the very important safety jobs they have,” he said.
Asked why the changes weren't made earlier, LaHood said, “We thought controllers were getting the rest they needed.”
LaHood said he is making changes in consultation with the controllers union. Under questioning, LaHood emphasized that investigations into controllers falling asleep have to be completed before they can be fired.
He said the FAA will not permit controllers to nap during breaks, as is the case in some European countries.
The FAA announced it had suspended an air traffic controller early Saturday morning for falling asleep while on duty during the midnight shift at a Miami control center. The incident did not result in any missed calls, unlike a similar incident at Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., last month.
The latest turn of events comes after Hank Krakowski, the FAA official in charge of airport flight towers, resigned April 13.
The FAA originally added a second person to the tower at Washington's Reagan National in March after two planes were forced to land without assistance when the controller working a fourth consecutive overnight shift was sleeping. In total, seven confirmed and suspected instances of sleeping have occurred in recent months. Controllers at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada, at Boeing Field in Seattle and at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn., were also confirmed to have fallen asleep on the job. Two controllers from Lubbock, Texas, are still under investigation for allegedly having fallen asleep.