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Second Air Traffic Controller Caught Sleeping On The Job, FAA Says

One month before an air traffic controller at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., fell asleep on the job at a time when he was the only person in the control tower, a controller at McGhee Tyson Airport outside Knoxville, Tenn., slept for about five hours "while on duty in the radar room of the airport," as the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

The controller involved in the March incident at Reagan National, during which pilots of two passenger jets landed with some help from regional controllers, has been suspended.

The News Sentinel says the controller in the Feb. 19 incident in Knoxville is to be fired. ABC News says it's alleged that unlike in the case of the Reagan National controller, who may have inadvertently dozed off, the controller in Knoxville "deliberately went to sleep on the job during a midnight shift on Feb. 19. Sources told ABC News that the sleeping controller didn't simply nod off — he made a bed on the floor of the control tower, using couch pillows from the employee break room and a blanket."

At the time in Knoxville, a second controller — in another room — was on duty. That person was left to handle both radar and traffic control duties. Seven planes landed, the FAA says. The controller who is said to have been asleep was supposed to be handling regional approaches, The Associated Press says.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.