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Falling asleep at work? Not SLU aviation students

5:18 PM, Apr 21, 2011   |    comments
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By Kasey Joyce

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Two air traffic controllers were fired Thursday after being caught sleeping on the job over the last few months. It's the latest in the fallout over several issues with air traffic controllers across the country. St. Louis University aviation students are paying close attention to these headlines.

The school has its own air traffic controller training program. Students say they're working hard to make sure they won't make the same mistakes.

"It's a job where you have peoples' lives in your hands," said student Edward Honey. "You have to take it seriously."

"There's a lot going on at once," said student Mike Polito. "There are planes going in, planes coming out, planes going around in circles; it's a lot of multitasking going on."

Students in SLU's aviation science program appreciate how difficult the job is and how tough the hours can be. But say there's no excuse for falling asleep on the job or watching a movie, as one controller in Ohio was caught doing.

"They work difficult shifts but it is just part of the job," Polito said.

"There's lots of periods of inactivity followed by in a blink of an eye, there's hundreds of things going on," Honey said. "You have to be vigilant even when there's not a lot going on."

Professor Terrence Kelly says the system is in place to catch any mistakes. That's why he said it worked as it should when the first lady's plane had to abort a landing because it got too close to another plane.

"That's a good case study," Kelly said. "How did these two planes come in such close proximity to each other. Where did the failures in the system that allowed this to happen?"

Professors like Kelly take those headlines and use them as teachable moments for controllers inside SLU's air traffic control lab.

"It's a big topic of discussion in the aviation industry right now," Polito said. "So we're talking about it a lot with our instructors."

SLU's professors are making sure their students are prepared for the day they're the ones sitting in that control tower.

"It's a plane full of people," Honey said. "You can't take that any more serious. It's a life or death situation."

The FAA and other officials are touring the country in an effort to address the recent problems.

Over the weekend, the government announced changes to how controllers will be scheduled-now, requiring at least nine hours between shifts instead of eight.


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