DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced last night that the FAA has fired two air traffic controllers after several cases of questionable behavior led to the suspension of nine controllers, several of whom the agency placed under investigation for sleeping on the job.
LaHood also said the agency would change ATC procedures for guiding aircraft carrying First Lady Michelle Obama or Vice President Joe Biden after an Air National Guard Boeing 737 carrying Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden–the vice president’s wife–had to abort a landing at Andrews AFB, outside Washington, D.C., because it came within three miles of a C-17 as they both approached Andrews to land. Procedures call for five miles of separation. The new procedures call for an ATC supervisor to handle all flights carrying the first lady or vice president.
LaHood announced the moves during an interview on PBS Newshour last night. One of the firings involved a Miami controller who on March 27 guided a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 into “close proximity” of a Cirrus SR22 to determine whether or not its pilots might have become incapacitated after ATC lost contact with the Cirrus for more than an hour. The pilots of the Southwest airplane reported seeing two people in the cockpit of the Cirrus. Moments after the encounter with the 737, the pilot of the SR22 contacted ATC and later landed safely in Kissimmee, Fla.
The FAA also fired a controller in Knoxville, Tenn., who fashioned a makeshift bed for himself in the tower and purposely slept on duty for five hours on February 19. “We're not going to sit by and let that kind of behavior take place in control towers,” pledged LaHood.