Americans were alarmed when it was reported in March that an air traffic controller at Washington's Reagan National Airport not only was the lone controller on duty during the overnight shift, but actually fell asleep on the job!
Two airliners had to land without assistance from the airport tower. Fortunately they did not crash.
Many surely hoped that scary incident was isolated.
But it wasn't.
In Reno, Nev., a medical flight carrying a sick patient recently had to land without aid from the tower - again, apparently because the only air traffic controller on duty was sleeping. For 16 minutes, the plane tried to raise the tower without success. Ultimately a faraway radar controller based in California managed to help the plane land.
As it turns out, there have been multiple incidents this year in which a controller evidently fell asleep. A Knoxville radar controller is expected to be fired, Federal Aviation Administration authorities say, after he allegedly slept while on duty in February. There were similar incidents in Lubbock, Texas, in March and in Seattle this month. And the Seattle controller was already under scrutiny over two previous allegations that he fell asleep!
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has now ordered a second late-shift controller into the dozens of towers that previously had only one controller on duty overnight.
"I am totally outraged by these incidents," he said in a statement.
They should outrage us all.
Landing a plane is not simple in ideal circumstances. The danger is far greater when the expected help isn't there. And most assuredly, towers at commercial airports that receive overnight flights should not be staffed with only one controller.