The FAA has reportedly responded to the latest air traffic control SNAFU involving a plane carrying First Lady Michelle Obama by requiring flights carrying her and Vice President Joe Biden to be handled by controllers overseen by supervisors. A supervisor is already required to oversee the control of Air Force One. In case you haven't heard, controllers at Andrews Air Force Base ordered a go around Monday evening of the First Lady's C-40, a military version of the Boeing 737 operated by a Guard unit, after it was handed off by the Potomac TRACON about three miles behind a C-17, instead of the required five miles. Officials were quick to point out that there was never any danger of collision and the go around was a precaution. The FAA is interested in knowing how the loss of separation occurred and the TRACON will undoubtedly be a busy place Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, the agency is also dealing with the suspension of a controller and supervisor in Cleveland after it was reported that the controller was watching a movie while on duty. "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 FAA said in a statement. The incident occurred shortly after midnight at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center. The controller was watching the movie on a portable electronic device while working a radar position, the FAA said. The stuck-mic problem was brought to the attention of ATC by the pilot of a military aircraft using an alternate frequency.
The FAA said the use of portable DVD players and other devices is prohibited on the floor of the radar room. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has been touring the nation this week with NATCA President Paul Rinaldi to promote professionalism among air traffic controllers and address the public's questions about sleeping controllers and air safety. The FAA has changed scheduling rules to ensure that controllers get a minimum of nine hours off between shifts. The FAA said it will also develop a fatigue education program to teach controllers the risks of fatigue and how to avoid it, and will commission an independent review of the air traffic control training curriculum and qualifications to make sure new controllers are properly prepared. NATCA said it will expand its Professional Standards program, which focuses on peer-to-peer education for controllers on how to maintain the highest degree of professional conduct.