Air Traffic Controller Suspended — for Watching Movie on Duty

Tuesday, 19 Apr 2011 10:25 AM

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Federal officials suspended still another air traffic controller, but not because he was asleep at the switch this time. Instead, the Cleveland worker was grounded because one of the military's Top Guns heard a movie soundtrack playing over a radio frequency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced.

Alarmed at another incident that potentially put airline passengers in the danger zone, the FAA also suspended the controller's supervisor, according to The Washington Post.

air traffic controller, suspended, Cleveland
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, voicing anger about controller incidents, vows: “We’re going to work 24/7 to make sure these controllers are well trained and alert.” (Getty Images Photo)
The suspensions occurred Monday, the same day FAA officials released new rules on air traffic controller scheduling intended to give personnel more time to rest between shifts.

Following is the FAA statement regarding the Cleveland case:

“During the early morning hours of April 17, 2011, an air traffic controller at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center was watching a movie on a portable electronic device while working a radar position. For a little more than three minutes, the controller’s microphone was inadvertently activated, transmitting the soundtrack of the movie over the radio frequency for that airspace. The problem was brought to air traffic control’s attention by the pilot of a military aircraft using an alternate frequency. The controller and the front line manager have been suspended from operational duties pending an investigation. FAA policy prohibits the use of portable DVD players and other devices from being used on the floor of the radar room.”

On Saturday, the suspension of a Miami controller for allegedly falling asleep while on duty with other controllers marked the seventh time this year that a controller was sidelined for napping.

On Sunday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed outrage about the incidents during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” He promised airline customers that officials are intent on ensuring their safety.

“I’m really mad about it,” LaHood said. “We’re going to work 24/7 to make sure these controllers are well trained and alert.”

Under the new guidelines, which took effect during the weekend, air traffic controllers are guaranteed a minimum of nine hours off between shifts, an hour longer than previously, the Post reported

“We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers,” LaHood said Sunday. “We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job.”

As for the Cleveland controller, the movie that landed him in the job brig: "Cleaner," a Samuel L. Jackson flick about a single father and former cop who owns and operates a crime scene cleanup company.

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