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FAA: No more napping in airport towers, but just in case it happens again, land somewhere else

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You gotta love bureaucrats. In the aftermath of a cringe-inducing screw-up, they tend to come up with bold new plans to start doing what they should have been doing all along.

Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt has perfected the art.  On Friday, he announced an “interim plan…effective immediately” that will supposedly ensure that airport air traffic controllers are not caught napping while planes full of passengers are trying to land. The FAA caught flak following Wednesday’s early morning mishap, in which two airliners had to land without clearance at Reagan National Airport when they could not rouse the lone traffic controller assigned to the graveyard shift.  Both planes eventually landed safely, no thanks to the FAA.

“I am determined to make sure we do not repeat Wednesday’s unacceptable event,” Babbitt said, adding that he ordered “a nationwide review of the air traffic control system to confirm the appropriate backup procedures and equipment are in place and in use.”

So far, so good, until you get to the end of his statement, where Babbitt says the FAA is reviewing overnight staffing “at selected airports around the country.” (Presumably, the nation’s capital falls into the “select” category, but you can’t be sure.) In classic CYA tradition, Babbitt covers his bases in the event that the thing that is not to be repeated is in fact repeated.

“I reminded all air traffic controllers that proper procedures dictate that they must offer pilots the option to divert to another airport if they do not make contact with the control tower,” Babbitt added.

Because you never know when one of your highly-paid air traffic controllers will nod off on the job again.