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Was Sleepy of Seven Dwarfs fame an air traffic controller?
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Where’s Ronald Reagan when you need him?

Now that FAA traffic controllers are no longer just sleeping on the job but are enjoying full-length feature films you’ve got to wonder why these people are still employed.

In a wacko development even the writers for “Airplane” wouldn’t have come up with because no one would have believed it, an air traffic controller near Cleveland was caught watching the 2007 crime thriller “Cleaner” thanks to his microphone broadcasting three minutes of the flick to aircraft in the air.

At least the guy wasn’t listening to “Die Hard II” or “Air Force I.”

Given the average annual salary before overtime for a FAA air traffic controller was $109,218 in March of 2009 you’d think the guy could have at least afford to be using a Blu-ray disc player.

The FAA immediately suspended the controller. That isn’t good enough. In the same week the FAA couldn’t explain away their fifth sleeping air traffic controller in weeks, this guy takes a DVD player to work. If his judgment is that bad would you want your life resting in his hands cruising at 20,000 or more feet in what is essentially an aluminum tube traveling in excess of 600 mph?

So what if their job is stressful? Whose job isn’t these days?

The big difference though is they have a job and they are making an average of $109,218 a year before overtime. That should be more than enough money unless, of course, one has a horrendously expensive DVD rental habit.

The funny thing is how the FAA treats sleeping pilots and fines airlines that don’t allow adequate turnaround times for flight crews. Remember Northwest Airlines Flight 188 that was bound for Minneapolis in October 2009 but overshot their target by 150 miles because the pilots allegedly fell asleep? The FAA treated it like the crime of the century. Apparently jeopardizing the lives of 149 passengers is much more serious than jeopardizing the lives of thousands of passengers in multiple planes when an air traffic controller nods off or gets engrossed in a movie.

The FAA has now suspended eight controllers and their supervisors since March.

The FAA, in case you’re wondering, officially forbids controllers from sleeping on the job including during the 20- to 30-minute breaks they get every few hours. They are worried about grogginess. But which is worse: a groggy air traffic controller, one that is fast asleep, or one watching DVDs on duty?

Some blame the sleeping on overnight work and short turnaround time between shifts that has now been stretched from a minimum of eight hours to nine hours. How is that any safer now that the FAA is giving controllers nine hours to drive home, eat, shower, sleep and get back to work?

Air traffic controllers supposedly like working back to back shifts so they can have three-day weekends.

Here’s a novel idea for the FAA. Instead of having workers determine their work hours for their personal needs why not have work rules reflect what one must assume is a more critical need - the safety of the flying public.

Why not have them work eight-hour shifts?

If the FAA management can’t figure out how to do this perhaps the time has come to turn over the domestic air traffic control system to the military. You fall asleep on the job as an air traffic controller in the military and it is treated for the serious offense that it is - dereliction of duty.

We are essentially entrusting our lives to systems run by bureaucrats who determine procedures and staffing that has little reality in terms of what those working in the control tower have to deal with night in and night out.

Safety - contrary to the FAA’s claim - is not job one with these people who apparently do not put in place rules or oversight sufficient enough to simply make sure that every air traffic controller is wide awake and paying attention to the radar screen and not a DVD player screen.