The official in charge of air traffic controllers for the Federal Aviation Administration resigned Thursday after a series of episodes in which controllers across the country slept as airplanes landed.
Henry P. Krakowski, the chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, tendered his resignation one day after the agency changed its policy of having a single air traffic controller on duty at each of 27 airports across the country overnight. Each of those will now have at least two controllers at night.
In recent weeks, several controllers — including one at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — were found to have been asleep while on duty as pilots seeking to land tried to contact the control tower.
The episodes have prompted angry responses from members of Congress and scathing criticism from the federal officials charged with overseeing air safety.
The most recent case involving an apparently sleeping controller, which occurred early Wednesday in Reno, Nev., led to Krakowski’s ouster Thursday.
J. Randolph Babbitt, the administrator of the FAA, said Thursday in a statement: “Over the last few weeks we have seen examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety. This conduct must stop immediately.”
Krakowski, who had led the Air Traffic Organization since October 2007, was previously United Air Lines’ vice president of corporate safety, security, and quality assurance. He is a 737 captain and a certified aircraft mechanic and was once an aerobatic pilot.
Babbitt said he had appointed David Grizzle, the agency’s counsel, to head the Air Traffic Organization until a permanent replacement could be found.
He also ordered a more thorough study of traffic control operations than the review of staffing and work schedules that the agency had previously announced. “We are conducting a top to bottom review of the way we operate our air traffic control system,” Babbitt said. “We are all responsible and accountable for safety, from senior FAA leadership to the controller in the tower. Employees at the FAA work diligently every day to run the safest air transportation system in the world. But I will continue to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure we concentrate on keeping the traveling public safe.”