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Air controller asleep as plane landed

SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) – An air traffic controller in Nevada was asleep and out of communication for about 16 minutes while a medical plane was landing, federal officials said Wednesday.

No one was injured when the flight carrying at least three people landed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport during what was at least the third incident this year at one of the nation’s airports involving a lapse by an traffic controller.

The controller in Reno has been suspended while the Federal Aviation Administration investigates his lack of response to repeated contacts from the plane and airport staff around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

“The flying public needs an assurance from the FAA that this situation will be addressed at all airports,” airport chief Krys Bart said. “We must have adequate staffing.”

Last month, two jetliners landed at Washington’s Reagan National Airport without tower assistance after the lone air traffic supervisor fell asleep.

A follo w-up investigation by the FAA uncovered a second incident of an air traffic controller sleeping on the job in February during the midnight shift at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered an examination of controller staffing at airports across the nation, and he directed that two controllers staff the midnight shift in Washington.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened its own investigation, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has added yet another investigation.

The Piper Cheyenne plane involved in the Nevada incident is a twin engine turboprop with seating for five.

Airport staff heard the pilot trying to contact the tower and then tried to contact the tower themselves, Bart said.

“The pilot evaluated the airfield. The weather was clear. The aircraft did land without incident,” she said.

It was not immediately clear where the flight was coming from.

Bart said the airport, which serves the Reno, Carson City and Lake Tahoe areas, opened a new air traffic control tower in October 2010.

She said the airport has three runways, including two with modern instrument landing and lighting systems.

The incidents come nearly five years after a fatal crash in Kentucky in which a controller was working alone. Investigators said the controller in Kentucky was most likely suffering from fatigue, although they placed responsibility for the crash that took 49 lives on the pilots.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has warned against putting controllers alone on shifts and assigning tiring work schedules.

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Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.


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