Doctor: Controllers working overnight should be allowed to nap

"So it's done. Fire departments do it, medical folks in hospitals take advantage of lulls and down time to get naps, and if you can have your total sleep time total seven, eight hours in 24, your performance is going to be sustained over the long haul.

"There was very nice work done 20 years ago on cockpit napping by my colleague Kurt Graber and Microrosekind who is now at the NTSB showing that 40-minute cockpit naps improve performance during landing," Benkley said later in the interview.

"The FAA sponsored this work. They actually had prepared an advisory circular to distribute to the airlines, but somewhere along the way it got derailed because it didn't pass the Jay Leno giggle test, and I think that's just a matter of sort of educating people to the value of napping and our air-traffic controllers are supposed to provide air traffic safety and they can do that better if they're well-rested."

That view has not been shared by officials at the Department of Transportation.

"We need to do better at the FAA," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a separate interview Friday with NBC's "Today Show." 

"We need to make sure that safety continues to be our No. 1 priority, that we have professional people in these control towers that can guide planes in and out, and there should be at least two people in those towers all the time."

The FAA announced Thursday that the official who had overseen its Air Traffic Organization had resigned in response to the recent rise in reports of controllers reportedly napping on the job. The agency also said it was putting two controllers on overnight shifts at 27 airports after incidents at Washington's Reagan National Airport, Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada and at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the issue on the floor of the Senate this week after a medical plane in Reno with a patient on board reportedly had to land on its own because an air traffic controller there was asleep.

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