— Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Wednesday that two air traffic controllers had been fired — one for sleeping on the job, the other for questionable guidance of a jetliner over Florida.
They had been among nine suspended during Federal Aviation Administration investigations into a rash of incidents involving controllers, including several who were sleeping and one who was watching a movie when he was supposed to be directing air traffic.
Separately, the FAA said aircraft carrying the first lady or vice president would receive a higher level of scrutiny from controllers since the aborted landing of a plane carrying Michelle Obama this week.
From now on, flights carrying Mrs. Obama or Vice President Joe Biden will be handled by an air traffic supervisor rather than a controller, the agency said in a statement. The new rules apply to approaches and departures handled by a regional air traffic facility in Warrenton, Va., and takeoffs and landings at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the presidential fleet is based.
Flights with the president aboard already must be handled by a supervisor.
LaHood announced the two controllers' firings during an appearance on PBS' "NewsHour."
One controller from Miami, he said, "had guided a 737 Southwest flight to take a look at a small plane that was out of radio contact to see if something was going on. Completely violates procedures."
The other fired controller was from Tennessee, LaHood said. "A controller actually made a bed in the control tower, brought a pillow, brought blankets. … We're not going to sit by and let that kind of behavior take place in control towers."
Also Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it had opened an investigation into the aborted landing of Mrs. Obama's plane. It had been allowed to get within three miles of a massive C-17 cargo plane as the aircraft were approaching Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to land, according to the FAA and Maj. Michelle Lai, a spokeswoman for the base.
The FAA requires a minimum separation of five miles when the lead plane is as large as the 200-ton military cargo jet, because a plane that size can leave a dangerous, turbulent wake that can threaten the trailing aircraft.