WASHINGTON (CBS4) – The Federal Aviation Administration said it has fired air traffic controllers in Miami and Knoxville, Tenn., for sleeping on the job.

FAA announced the firings in a statement late Wednesday.

The agency has said the controller in Miami was found sleeping around 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.

The Knoxville incident occurred on Feb. 19 at a radar facility at the McGhee Tyson Airport. Officials said the controller deliberately slept for about five hours despite attempts by a co-worker to wake him.

Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced changes to air traffic controller scheduling aimed at reducing fatigue.

“We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers. We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job,” said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier this week. “Safety is our top priority and we will continue to make whatever changes are necessary.”

The changes include:

  • Controllers will now have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts, currently they may have as few as eight.
  • Controllers will no longer be able to swap shifts unless they have a minimum of 9 hours off between the last shift they worked and the one they want to begin.
  • Controllers will no longer be able to switch to an unscheduled midnight shift following a day off.
  • FAA managers will schedule their own shifts in a way to ensure greater coverage in the early morning and late night hours.

“Research shows us that giving people the chance for even an additional one hour of rest during critical periods in a schedule can improve work performance and reduce the potential for fatigue,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “Taking advantage of the time you have to rest is also a professional responsibility.”

Passengers at Miami International Airport reacted to the news.

“My safety is at risk and not only my safety but the safety of everyone else on the flight,” said passenger Melissa Friesen.

Others said they wanted to feel more secure when they board planes.

“I’m not happy with this news,” said Renata Rangel who was flying to Brazil. “Because I need to feel secure when I’m flying.”

According to a preliminary review of air traffic tapes, the controller who worked at the Miami Air Route Control Center on NW 58th Street did not miss any calls from aircraft and there was no operational impact.

Controllers at the MARCC direct planes over 425,000 square miles of airspace.  Prior to the start of the shift, all controllers were given a briefing on professionalism and the importance of reporting to work fit for duty. The incident was reported to a manager by another controller. There were 12 controllers on duty and two managers.