Effective immediately, 27 airport control towers that have only controller on the overnight shift will get a second staffer, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said on Wednesday. The decision was made after yet one more solo controller was caught napping. About 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, the pilot of a Piper Cheyenne carrying an ill patient on a medical flight was approaching to land at Reno-Tahoe International Airport and could not get a response from the tower. Weather was clear and the pilot landed safely, according to the Associated Press. The Reno controller, who was out of communication for about 16 minutes, has been suspended while the FAA investigates. "Air traffic controllers are responsible for making sure aircraft safely reach their destinations. We absolutely cannot and will not tolerate sleeping on the job," Babbitt said. "This type of unprofessional behavior does not meet our high safety standards."
"I am totally outraged by these incidents," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This is absolutely unacceptable. The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our number one priority and I am committed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected." The FAA recently suspended several controllers who were caught sleeping on the job, one at Boeing Field on Monday and two others who failed to hand off a departing aircraft at Lubbock, Texas, on March 29. In response, Babbitt and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi will visit air traffic facilities around the country next week "to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards." Also, the FAA said it will contract an independent review of its air traffic control training curriculum and qualifications, and NATCA will expand its Professional Standards committees.