Last week we shared a story about the ongoing problem of napping air traffic controllers. Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules intended to prevent air traffic controllers from sleeping during overnight shifts while they are supposed to be ensuring that airplanes are directed safely to and from their destinations, and avoiding airline accidents.
We recently shared a story about a flight from Chicago to Reagan International Airport that landed without the assistance of an air traffic controller because the controller had fallen asleep on the job. There have now been additional reports of air traffic controllers napping on the job. While fortunately these lapses did not result in any airplane crashes they highlight what may be a more systemic problem that could undermine the safety of all those who rely on the airlines for transportation.
On Saturday, the Illinois Air National Guard and a number of local emergency response agencies held a full scale drill at the Peoria International Airport to test their response plans. The disaster drill is designed to provide responders an opportunity to refine their practices for responding to a plane crash. Approximately 70 local youths participated as crash victims wearing prosthetics and makeup to replicate the types of injuries they would likely suffer in a real airline accident.
When a FedEx airplane taxied out to takeoff from Chicago's O'Hare airport, a preflight check determined that the plane was too heavy to use the runway to which it was originally assigned because that runway was only 8,000 feet long. Air traffic controllers gave the flight the option of a new runway and the plane prepared for takeoff. They began accelerating down the new runway unaware that a blast fence had been erected for the runway construction, shortening the runway to only 6,000 feet. The pilots were surprised as the moved down the runway and saw the fence quickly approaching. The plane was already moving too fast to stop in time to avoid the fence so the pilots took the plane into the air as quickly as possible narrowly missing the blast fence. They were close enough though that the exhaust from the engines blew away the blast fence.