FAA's Head Of ATO Resigns Amid Reports Of Controllers Falling Asleep


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FAA's Head Of ATO Resigns Amid Reports Of Controllers Falling Asleep

By Mike Mitchell

April 15, 2011 - The head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO), Hank Krakowski, under pressure resigned on Thursday due to the number of reports that have surfaced on air traffic controllers falling asleep in the control towers. 

ATO is the America’s air navigational arm of the FAA that employs more than 35,000 air traffic controllers, technicians, engineers and support workers. ATO is responsible for more than 7,000 takeoffs and landings per hour, and more than 660 million passengers and 37 billion cargo revenue ton miles of freight a year. ATO safely guides 50,000 aircraft through the national airspace system every day. 

There are 9 service units make up the ATO; En Route and Oceanic Services, Acquisition and Business Services, Communications Services, Finance Services, NextGen and Operations Planning Services, Office of Safety, System Operations Services, Technical Operations Services and Terminal Services.

In California an air traffic controller feel asleep while a medical flight was landing. It appears that the pilot and airport staff was unsuccessful in contacting the controller. The FAA reported the pilot was in contact with regional radar controllers in northern California during the landing. 

- Nevada, at 2 AM the pilot of a Piper Cheyenne airplane tried to contact the controller at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. After 16 minutes and favorable conditions the pilot landed the aircraft without incident.

- Washington DC, two jetliners landed their aircraft at Washington's Reagan National Airport without tower assistance.

- Tennessee, reports indicate that the controller at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville could not be reached by landing aircraft for five hours.

- Seattle Washington a controller was suspended for falling asleep during a morning shift and apparently this had happen on to other occasions.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has long advocated for adding two controllers on the midnight shift and had warned of the dangers of single controllers, long tiring work hours, many of the towers to not have bathrooms and the controllers are unable to take a break from being in the tower for 8 straight hours.


FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said “Over the last few weeks we have seen examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety. This conduct must stop immediately. I am committed to maintaining the highest level of public confidence and that begins with strong leadership. 

“This morning (Thursday) I met with the head of our Air Traffic Organization, the part of the Federal Aviation Administration charged with operating our air traffic control system. Hank Krakowski has submitted his resignation and I have accepted it. Hank is a dedicated aviation professional and I thank him for his service. Starting today, I have asked David Grizzle, FAA's chief counsel, to assume the role of acting ATO chief operating officer while we conduct a nationwide search to permanently fill the position. 


“We are conducting a top to bottom review of the way we operate our air traffic control system. We are all responsible and accountable for safety-from senior FAA leadership to the controller in the tower. Employees at the FAA work diligently every day to run the safest air transportation system in the world. But I will continue to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure we concentrate on keeping the traveling public safe.

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