WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration took new steps Wednesday to fix problems in the nation’s air traffic control system, firing two controllers for sleeping on the job and ordering a higher level of supervision over aircraft carrying the first lady or vice president.
The new air traffic rules and the firings come as the FAA struggles to reassure the public that air travel is safe. The agency has been shaken by a series of embarrassing incidents, including five cases in which controllers fell asleep on the job, one in which a controller was caught watching a DVD at his post and an aborted landing this week of a plane carrying Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden.
The controllers fired Wednesday were assigned to radar facilities in Miami and Knoxville, Tenn. They had been found sleeping during overnight shifts, according to the FAA.
Under the new rules, flights carrying the first lady or the vice president will be handled by an air traffic supervisor rather than a controller, the agency said. The new rules apply to approaches and departures handled by a regional air traffic facility in Warrenton, Va., and takeoffs and landings at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the presidential fleet is based.
Flights with the president on board are already required to be handled by a supervisor.
Also on Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it has opened an investigation into the aborted landing of Obama’s plane.