FAA Official Quits

After several air traffic controllers were found to be asleep on their jobs, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Organization stepped down Thursday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The FAA announced today that the top official overseeing air traffic controllers has resigned.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the move comes after at least five incidents of controllers sleeping on duty in the past few weeks.

BRIAN NAYLOR: FAA administrator Randy Babbitt accepted the resignation of Hank Krakowski this morning after the two met. Babbitt praised Krakowski, a former safety official at United Airlines as, quote, "a dedicated aviation professional."

But in a statement announcing the resignation, Babbitt said there had been, in his words, examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly causes the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety. This conduct, said Babbitt, must stop immediately.

(Soundbite of radio)

Unidentified Man: Reno tower (unintelligible) lifeguard (unintelligible).

NAYLOR: The most recent incident occurred early yesterday morning when a medical flight with a sick patient tried to contact the controller at the Reno-Tahoe Airport. In a tape released today by LiveATC.net, the pilot can be heard repeatedly trying to raise the tower.

(Soundbite of radio)

Unidentified Man: Reno tower (unintelligible) lifeguard (unintelligible).

NAYLOR: Eventually, the pilot was able to reach an air traffic controller in California who tried to phone the Reno tower. But that didn't work either. And after telling the California controller we have a pretty sick patient, the pilot decided to land at the Reno Airport on his own.

(Soundbite of radio)

Unidentified Man #1: We're going to need to land.

Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible) Roger. And landing will be at your risk. And the last reported wind was calm.

NAYLOR: The flight landed without incident. The Reno controller who had fallen asleep has been suspended. The FAA subsequently announced it would add 27 controllers to facilities where there is currently only one working on the midnight shift. But that move has been criticized because there's so little air traffic at most airports overnight. Babbitt also said he would be undertaking a top to bottom review of the way the air traffic control system works.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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