Air traf­fic con­troller’s in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion in­ves­ti­gated

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - NEVADA - By Richard N. Velotta Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

An air traf­fic con­troller at Mccar­ran In­ter­na­tional Air­port be­came in­ca­pac­i­tated while on duty Wed­nes­day night and has been placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said Fri­day that no safety events or losses of re­quired sep­a­ra­tion be­tween air­craft oc­curred, and there were no con­flicts be­tween air­craft on the air­field. Still, Rep. Dina Ti­tus de­scribed the in­ci­dent as “deeply dis­turb­ing.”

The FAA said the con­troller, a woman it didn’t iden­tify, be­gan her shift just af­ter 10 p.m. Her per­for­mance ap­peared to de­grade at 11:09 p.m. and be­came im­paired at 11:24 p.m. She then ap­peared un­re­spon­sive at 11:47 p.m. A sec­ond con­troller en­tered the tower cab at about 11:50 p.m. and be­gan han­dling air traf­fic at 11:54 p.m.

“The FAA is deeply con­cerned by the in­ci­dent, is thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gat­ing what oc­curred, and is tak­ing im­me­di­ate steps to mod­ify its overnight shift staffing poli­cies,” the agency said in its state­ment.

Ti­tus, D-nev., a mem­ber of the House sub­com­mit­tee on avi­a­tion, said she was briefed about the mat­ter and is await­ing ad­di­tional de­tails.

“The safety of trav­el­ers is of para­mount con­cern and I will work with the FAA and Mccar­ran as this in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues to un­fold,” Ti­tus said in a state­ment is­sued late Fri­day.

FAA of­fi­cials de­clined com­ment on whether the con­troller suf­fered a med­i­cal emer­gency, but med­i­cal per­son­nel were dis­patched to the tower when the in­ci­dent was re­ported.

The Na­tional Air Traf­fic Con­trollers As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents the na­tion’s more than 14,000 air traf­fic con­trollers, said it would co­op­er­ate with the FAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the out­stand­ing work that is done ev­ery day by the thou­sands of men and women who keep the na­tional airspace sys­tem safe,” NATCA Pres­i­dent Paul Ri­naldi said in a state­ment. “Our air traf­fic con­trollers in Las Ve­gas and around the coun­try do an ex­cep­tional job day in and day out and demon­strate the high­est pro­fes­sional stan­dards.”

Two con­trollers were on duty at the time of the in­ci­dent, and one was on a break, which is al­low­able un­der FAA pol­icy. Pi­lots con­tacted con­trollers at the Las Ve­gas ap­proach con­trol — a sep­a­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ter at the base of the Mccar­ran tower — af­ter some of the ra­dio ex­changes. One of the ap­proach con­trollers went up to the tower and alerted the tower con­troller who was on break of the sit­u­a­tion.

A record­ing of tower com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the tower and air­line pi­lots at the time of the in­ci­dent from Liveatc.net in­cludes some ex­changes with pi­lots ask­ing the con­troller to re­peat her in­struc­tions.

At one point, a pi­lot said he was “check­ing on the tower, some­thing’s go­ing on up there.”

Later in the record­ing, the con­troller’s mi­cro­phone ap­pears to be open and she can be heard cough­ing sev­eral times. A dis­tant male voice asked, “Are you all right?”

Some pi­lots started ra­dio­ing each other and in­di­cated they were go­ing to stay in place un­til there was a res­o­lu­tion. Even­tu­ally, a new voice be­gan giv­ing pi­lots in­struc­tions from the tower.

Con­tact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@re­viewjour­nal.com or 702477-3893. Fol­low @Rick­velotta on Twit­ter.

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