You've probably heard this scarifying tale of Life in the Age of No Public Employee Left At All, but here are some snippets (via WaPo) of a conversation between a pilot and an air traffic controller not at the airport in which the pilot is about to attempt to land:
“So you’re aware,” the controller said, “the tower is apparently not manned. We’ve made a few phone calls. Two airplanes went in the past 10 to 15 minutes, so you can expect to go into an uncontrolled airport.”
“Is there a reason it’s not manned?” the American pilot asked.
“Well, I’m going to take a guess,” the controller replied, “and say that the controller got locked out. I’ve heard of it happening before.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” the pilot said.
“Fortunately, it’s not very often,” the controller said. “It happened about a year ago. I’m not sure that’s what happened now, but there’s nobody in the tower.”(You can actually listen to some of that conversation here. Can't say I'd recommend it to readers who spend much time on airplanes, but, on the other hand, it is always fun to hear dudes engage in cool banter in the midst of some deeply effed-up and potentially dangerous situation. It restores your confidence in the whole idea of Remaining Calm.)
The incident occurred shortly after midnight Wednesday at Washington's Don't-You-Dare-Call-It Reagan National Airport. Two planes had to land without assistance because the lone person on duty in the tower between midnight and 6 a.m. failed to respond to repeated efforts to reach him. That individual has been suspended while the incident is under investigation. AP is reporting that the control tower supervisor simply fell asleep. On the job. Of helping to land airplanes. With people on them. In this case, 165 people.
In the wake of the incident, WaPo reports, "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered a second air-traffic controller to be on duty overnight at the airport. LaHood also instructed the FAA to examine staffing levels at other airports around the country."
Good idea, Ray, good idea! We look forward to hearing the details on those staffing levels. Call us crazy, Ray, but it just seems to us that there ought to be at least two controllers on duty anytime planes are taking off or landing, because, well, sleep happens. And gastro-intestinal disturbances requiring lengthy trips to the bathroom happen. Heart attacks happen. Accidental lock-outs happen. Oopsie-doopsie, man! Sorry I can't help you find your way through that fog or avoid the snowplow in the middle of the runway, but, well, I'm the only one here and I just blew an aneurysm. Sucks for both of us, doesn't it? Hey, could you call 911 for me?
Do us all a favor, Ray. Use this unfortunate incident as a little object lesson for the American people on the importance of investing in silly things like a fully staffed federal work force. Point out that if in fact you succeed in shrinking government down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub you will see a steep decline in the safety, security, and quality of life. If you want the skies you fly and the food you eat and the water you drink to be safe, you have to be willing to fund a work force committed to serving those public goods.
Think of it this way, Ray: The American people are willing to take off their shoes and subject themselves to a range of other inconveniences and humiliations just to get on an airplane. Don't you think you could convince them that a modest public investment might be worthwhile to assure they stay safe once they are on board? Srsly, Ray, this ain't rocket science. It's political communication 101. Give it a try!
And for you, my beautiful earth-bound darlings, go ahead and space out on the song I put in your pretty little heads at the top of this post. Planet Earth is blue, kind of, and there's something you can do, I'm sure. Peace out.