Snoozing Air Traffic Controller leaves jetliners to land without clearance at Reagan National Airport

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From ‘The Wall Street Journal’

Air Controller’s Silence Draws Safety Probe

Federal air-safety officials are looking into why the lone air-traffic controller on duty at Washington’s Reagan National Airport early Wednesday repeatedly failed to respond to pilots of two approaching aircraft, forcing both jetliners to land without clearance.

The veteran controller later acknowledged he may have been dozing, according to people familiar with the matter, just before and after midnight when the incoming jetliners were preparing to land.

Pilots of an American Airlines jet on final approach tried in vain to contact the tower. A few minutes later, a United Airlines jet, en route from Chicago, experienced the same problem, according to federal air-safety officials.

Both jets landed safely without establishing communications with the tower. But the unusual incident is bound to revive debate over controller and supervisory staffing levels at some of the nation’s airports, and whether some controllers working particularly late or early shifts may be prone to fatigue.

The incident, which involved a supervisor who isn’t a member of the controllers’ union, prompted an immediate and sharp response from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood……. continued

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