WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration replaced three top managers in the nation’s air traffic control system yesterday following incidents of controllers sleeping on the job and making potentially dangerous mistakes.
In a shake-up of the system, new managers were appointed to key positions that oversee the operation of airport towers and regional radar centers that handle planes flying at high altitudes as well as approaches and departures, the agency said in a statement. A new manager was also appointed to run a regional radar center near Cleveland. The previous managers are being reassigned.
The performance of midlevel managers is also being reassessed, the FAA said. And teams of experts are examining several of the agency’s more complex facilities, including the Cleveland center and one on Long Island, to ensure agency policies are being followed and professional standards upheld.
Earlier this month, a controller working an overnight shift at the Cleveland center was suspended for watching a DVD movie while he was supposed to be directing air traffic. In February, a supervisor at the Long Island center complained that controllers on night shifts routinely took naps during breaks and played electronic games when traffic was light.
On Wednesday, the FAA replaced the acting manager of a regional radar facility in Warrenton, Va., that handles approaches and departures for airports in Virginia and Maryland. The action came a week after a controller at the facility allowed a plane carrying Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to fly less than 3 miles behind a much larger military cargo jet as the planes approached Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
FAA regulations require a separation of at least 5 miles when the plane in the lead is significantly larger to prevent the trailing plane from encountering dangerous wake turbulence. Controllers at Andrews directed Obama’s plane to abandon its landing and circle the air base to give the cargo jet time to get off the runway.