April 21, 2011


Captain Dave posted another entry to his blog, Flight Level 390, a couple of days ago. Much of the article is a mild rant about a less-than-top-flight co-pilot, but the first couple of paragraphs are relevant to the ongoing media confusion over sleeping controllers.

Where am I and why am I dressed this way? Yikes! Time for oxygen, again... The alien-like head squeezer grips my skull and face allowing the regulator to flood my lungs with a pressurized stream of cool aviator's oxygen. Colors get brighter instantly and my mental acumen comes back from the brink of stupid. I look over at the co-pilot; he is looking at the food stains on his tie.
Surely he is doing just that... Because sleeping is illegal. Just ask the poor air traffic controllers who are in the media smash box at the moment.

Oxygen, the old trick of pilots going back to the days of unpressurized aircraft. Groggy? Hung over? Feeling ill? Take a hit of aircraft oxygen and bam! ...you're back to normal. For a while, at least.

Dave is driving an Airbus full of people overnight, his co-pilot has obviously nodded off, and he's groggy. It happens. It happened in a few control towers recently, too, where there was only one sleepy controller on duty. And, for a brief while, there was none.

The "problem" isn't a problem, it's human nature. It won't be solved by putting another sleepy controller on the shift. It will be solved by putting another two controllers on the shift, and letting them take turns napping. They do it at Eurocontrol (Get The Flick), it works, and we should do it here in America.

We're not paying controllers to stay awake. We're paying them to keep airplanes apart so that air travel and air commerce can proceed safely. Safety is a relative measure, one not easily met by tired, bleary-eyed controllers. I've been there. How safe do you want to be?