Sleeping Air Traffic Controllers Serve As Wake-Up Call For FAA

Wednesday, April 20th 2011, 9:04 pm
By: News On 6

Lacie Lowry, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Air traffic instructors are ramping up their lessons in the wake of an FAA flap. The agency is enforcing new scheduling changes after recent criticism of controllers napping on the job.

So can you really teach someone not to fall asleep while working?

Controller fatigue is addressed in training programs offered at colleges like Tulsa Community College. Instructors say it's all about discipline.

TCC's Air Traffic Control course has taken off. The program started in 2009 and the fall semester is already full.

"I moved from Arkansas," Mark McMillan said. "I was actually enrolled in another school in Texas and found out about Tulsa Community College."

TCC is one of only two colleges in Oklahoma that trains air traffic control students.

Students learn on a $1.5 million control tower simulator, radar approach simulator and from industry veterans, like instructor Ben Bancroft.

"You have to be prepared to work shifts that are hard on your body, because we work when other people are playing," Bancroft said.

Bancroft teaches about the rigors of rotating shifts and how to avoid falling asleep on midshifts.

"We come in late at night sometimes for midnight shifts and the body says, no, I want to sleep. You have to take responsibility that when you get off earlier that day, you have to go home and get some rest," he said.

Instructors say there's no secret to staying awake other than discipline, especially when you're responsible for every plane that takes offs and lands.

"The timing as it is now with the need for air traffic controllers across the nation, I just feel extremely blessed to be in the position I'm in," McMillan said.