WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration took new steps Wednesday to fix problems in the nation's air traffic control system, firing two controllers for sleeping on the job and ordering a higher level of supervision over aircraft carrying the first lady or vice president.
The new rules and the firings come as the FAA struggles to reassure the public that air travel is safe. The agency has been shaken by a series of embarrassing incidents, including five cases of controllers falling asleep on the job, a controller caught watching a DVD movie at his post and an aborted landing this week of a plane carrying Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill.
The controllers fired Wednesday were assigned to radar facilities in Miami and Knoxville, Tenn. They had been found sleeping during overnight shifts, according to the FAA, which had disclosed the incidents previously.
Under the new air traffic rules, flights carrying Mrs. Obama or the vice president will be handled by an air traffic supervisor rather than a controller, the agency said. The new rules apply to approaches and departures handled by a regional air traffic facility in Warrenton, Va., and takeoffs and landings at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where the presidential fleet is based.
Flights with the president on board are already required to be handled by a supervisor
Also on Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it has opened an investigation into the aborted landing of Mrs. Obama's plane.
The FAA moved swiftly in the case of the Miami controller, whom the agency said was found sleeping at about 5 a.m. Saturday at a regional radar facility that handles high-altitude air traffic for portions of Florida, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.