U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, embarrassed by reports of air-traffic controllers asleep at their jobs, said today that as well-trained professionals they have a "personal responsibility" to get their job done -- including resting when they're off the clock.
LaHood reiterated that while he is open to suggestions from the Federal Aviation Administration and the air-traffic controllers union, "we're not going to pay controllers to take naps. I've already decided that."
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria, also said the federal government will fund high-speed rail lines because "the people want it," despite opposition from some Republican governors and the deficit-cutting plans of House Republicans.
A day after firing controllers in Miami and Knoxville, Tenn., for sleeping at their jobs, LaHood said a recent order to extend the rest time between shifts from eight to nine hours could be extended even longer if needed.
"Part of being a controller is being well-trained and performing your job the way you were trained to do it," he said. "But a big part of the job is taking personal responsibility, that when you go home to rest, that you should rest, that you shouldn't be doing other things."
LaHood said there are seven ongoing investigations of controllers asleep at their posts, a string which began in March when two airliners arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., including a United Airlines Airbus 320 from Chicago, landed without being able to raise contact from the airport control tower.
LaHood said the Washington incident was the first he had heard of fatigue among air-traffic controllers, including those working overnight shifts.
"What has been brought to my attention was that we needed to extend rest time for controllers and we've done that. Controllers just need to take personal responsibility that when they're supposed to be resting, that's what they should be doing because they have one of the most important safety jobs in aviation -- guiding planes in and out of airports," he said.
You can read more of LaHood's comments at Chicago Tribune's Clout Street blog.