This FAA business about the sleeping controllers is getting suspicious. I wrote last week about the fact that a low traffic period in which a single controller is on duty in the tower is not a big deal. The essential function is for an emergency response and not to provide deconfliction of aircraft which are essentially fully capable of functioning in a classic see-and-avoid environment. The fact that Joe Sixpack with a microphone answers when you call and says "Cleared to land" is not a make or break situation for safety.
Now, we've got this rash of copy-cat reports where controllers across the system are dozing on duty. If they are night-watchmen, that's no big deal. If they are part of a busy multi-controller facility, it's still no big deal. In the night situation they aren't needed and in the multi-player facility they aren't critical.
But, I always remain paranoid. They possibly really are out there to get me. It's budget crunching time and we've got a power-hungry bureaucracy-based administration that is going to whimper about every single nip to the bloated budget. What is the desired sequence of thought here?
Controllers are over-worked and under-staffed. You, the flying public, are in serious danger. The answer is more controllers, more regulation, more supervisors, more training, more equipment and a bigger budget. This is one more critical area where those nasty ol' Tea Party goblins are trying to kill you, grandma and our children.
Already we've got Ray LaHood taking action by adding controllers on those lonely night shifts. That's efficiency and responsiveness!
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was one of they guys around the world who had the awesome responsibility of baby-sitting "the Bomb". Yep! I was in charge of my very own 345 kiloton thermonuclear weapon. All I had to do was jump in the jet and get airborne within fifteen minutes of being scrambled.
I would get this job for three or four days at a stretch and during that time I would live a close-to-normal life. I ate, I read, I played cards, I saw movies or watched TV and (ohmigod!!!!) I slept on the job. I could do this because of a magnificent high-tech device called a klaxon, or as we lovingly referred to it, "That God-damned horn!"
The horn was irresistible. Every day at exactly 12:00 noon the command post would test the horn. The horn is bloody, freaking loud. They would call the alert facility a few minutes before the test to warn us. We knew that in two minutes the horn would go off.
Despite the awareness and warning, when the horn blew it was virtually impossible not to jump up.
Memo to Sec. LaHood. Don't hire more controllers at $85,000 per year plus benefits. Install klaxons in towers with single-person staffing at night. When Approach Control, Enroute Center or airborne pilots report no contact with a single-person facility, blow the horn. You will get a wide-awake controller immediately and your cost per installation will be a one-time thousand dollars or so.