As air traffic controllers come under scrutiny following several revelations of sleeping on the job, a new transgression has been disclosed. In the Cleveland suburb of Oberlin, Ohio, a controller has been suspended for taking his attention away from monitoring aircraft… to watch a movie.
There was no word on how long this practice may have been happening in the tower, which is responsible for monitoring high-altitude air traffic. However, the FAA also suspended a manager at the center, raising suspicion that this was not an isolated event that was happening under the radar of superiors.
This incident would not have been uncovered if not for an error by the controller. In a statement released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), they said the controller accidentally activated his microphone, transmitting to the planes in the immediate airspace. To the surprise of the pilots, they received more than three minutes of the Samuel L. Jackson crime thriller, “Cleaner.”
Aside from the issue of diverted attention, having the microphone transmitting also prevented him from receiving transmissions. A military pilot in the area alerted him to the issue.
The FAA has now suspended nine controllers and supervisors over the last month. This includes five cases of controllers allegedly sleeping on the job, and another case where two controllers in Lubbock, Texas were not responding to radio calls.
Prior to disclosing the latest incident, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt admitted to being “infuriated” that controllers have been sleeping on the job. “None of us in this business can … tolerate any of this. It absolutely has to stop.”
Babbitt confirmed that the FAA does not allow controllers to sleep during their shifts, including during the breaks they receive every few hours. Even though breaks can vary from 20 to 30 minutes, napping is forbidden.
This issue has been addressed at the top levels of Federal Government. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has held numerous appearances on network television admonishing the behavior, while President Barack Obama told ABC News last week, “We’ve got it under control.”
Aside from questioning oversight at the centers, critics are now asking about controller schedules, and if they are being afforded adequate time off to sleep. Instead of looking at research showing the advantages of “cat naps,” the FAA is adjusting work schedules. Controllers must now have nine hours off between shifts instead of eight.
Babbitt recognizes the ongoing scandal is harming the agency’s credibility. Referring to the controllers, he stated “that should never be a thought for anybody getting in an airplane in this country, and it hasn’t been a thought. But unfortunately, we have raised that concern.”