A series of recent blunders that appeared to leave flight crews and the flying public in danger has led to dismissals and high level management changes, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt, who said the moves were part of a comprehensive review of the air traffic control system.

Three controllers in Knoxville, Miami and Seattle were fired for sleeping while working an operational position.

Additionally, the FAA has instituted changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices that will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts. “The FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) are continuing to work together on additional changes that will help reduce controller fatigue, including a fatigue education program,” according to an FAA statement.

On Friday, the FAA also announced the members of an independent review panel that will evaluate the agency’s air traffic control training curriculum, qualifications and placement process to make sure new controllers are properly prepared. The members of the panel are: Michael Barr, University of Southern California Aviation, Safety & Security program; Tim Brady, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Garth Koleszar, NATCA; Michael New, United Airlines; and Julia Pounds, FAA. The panel will submit a report to FAA Administrator Babbitt this fall.

The in-depth look at air traffic controller training is part of the FAA – NATCA Call to Action on air traffic control safety and professionalism. Babbitt, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and members of their leadership teams have been visiting air traffic facilities around the country “to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards.”

Babbit announced that three veteran FAA managers will be “repositioned” to assume oversight of critical air traffic roles:
  • Walt Cochran will oversee Terminal Operations, where he will be responsible for all of the Agency's airport towers and TRACONS (approach and departure control).
  • Chris Metts will oversee all of the Agency’s En Route and Oceanic operations.
  • Glen Martin will become the Air Traffic Manager at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center. He is currently the deputy air traffic manager at Chicago Center.
The FAA is also assessing key mid-level management positions to ensure that both technical and leadership expectations are being met.

Teams of FAA experts are also examining some of the agency’s more complex facilities, including Cleveland and New York Centers, in an effort to make certain that operational policies and professional standards are being upheld.

“We are continuing to do everything in our power to ensure that our nation’s aviation system remains the safest in the world. This is just the beginning of the process to make sure we have the best possible team in place,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood and Babbitt said earlier this month that the FAA would place an additional air traffic controller on the midnight shift at air traffic control towers and facilities around the country that were staffed with only one controller during that time.