Modern air travel allows for some creature comforts at 30,000 feet which allow people to relax, recline their seats and rest comfortably. Some New York area air traffic controllers are enjoying some of those same comforts at ground level, much to the dismay of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Recently, a confidential source released information and photo evidence to the media showing fellow air traffic controllers sleeping or not paying attention to flight traffic while on duty at Westchester County Airport. This has resulted in airplane accidents at airports similar to Westchester.
There are strict rules that prohibit things like sleeping in the tower or even just having a cell phone on. However, several employees are shown in photos released by a whistleblower to be doing just about anything but manning their position and monitoring the skies. It is believed that this is an industry wide problem, as six air traffic controllers were caught sleeping last year.
In providing this information, the informant has passenger safety in mind as should also be the case for the air traffic controllers. Unfortunately, that does not always appear to be the case. Even a momentary lapse in judgment or attention could have a catastrophic outcome. This was the case in 2009 when a helicopter collided with a small plane. It was later determined that a controller at Teterboro Airport was using his cell phone at the time of the accident.
The reaction to alleged misconduct has been strong from aviation officials. The FAA said it “is committed to ensuring the safety of our nation’s airspace for the traveling public.” In the past several years the FAA has increased mandatory breaks and increased manager coverage in order to limit dangerous rule breaking.
Despite the rule changes, sources at Westchester say the FAA has done little to limit the amount of problems that persist there. The inquiry into air traffic controller misconduct has not been completed at this time, but it appears that if the allegations of impropriety are accurate that discipline is soon to follow.