Sleeping on the job is not a good thing, especially if you are the only one on duty in the control tower making sure departing and landing aircraft have proper separation. Workplace fatigue has always been an issue, and when it affects the health and safety of potentially hundreds of other people, it becomes more critical.
As an aviation law attorney, pilot and FAA safety team member and presenter, I can assure you that most air traffic controllers do a great job. There are thousands of flights in and out of the busiest airports in the world, with most in the United States, and air traffic control (ATC) does a great job.
Pilots are trained to and often land and depart at non-towered airports, those airports without ATC employees and or a tower, or after airport tower hours. In all flights, there is a pilot who is deemed the “pilot in command” and is trained to tune in to a pre-assigned frequency and listen to other traffic, and then announce at various locations on the airport and also when within 10 miles of landing his intentions. The motto is “who you are, where you are at, what your intentions are,” and then periodic updates as you approach an airport. So pilots are trained to ”see and be seen,” even without air traffic control.
Recently an airborne Boeing 737 carrying Mrs. Obama came within 3 miles of a US military aircraft. The pilots have TCAS (traffic collision avoidance systems), their own eyes, and the assistance of ATC, so the Obama aircraft did a “go around.” The system worked, the pilots were well trained and ATC did their job.
The issue of sleeping controllers is not a systemic problem, but an employee issue. In fact, another controller was recently caught watching a crime thriller DVD with Samuel L. Jackson and neglecting his duties. These isolated events can be dealt with case by case by line supervisors. We all should be good employees, get a good night’s rest, give our employer our best effort, stay on task, avoid workplace distractions like wasting time on social networking sites or internet surfing. Let’s not knee jerk and blame the entire air traffic control system or the government or the employer. And we certainly don’t need more laws enacted to tell employers or employees how many hours of sleep they must have each night.
If you have an aviation issue, please contact us. If you have an employee or employer workplace issue, we would be happy to talk to you.