Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Sleepy air traffic controllers: Could it happen in Tucson? You betcha.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan ordering striking unionists back to work. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia.)

Earlier this week, President Ronald Reagan’s air traffic controller union busting devolved to a dangerous low point in air safety when a lone controller fell asleep at the switch at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a bustling, major airport outside of Washington DC.

As a result, two passenger jets trying to land at Reagan National had to wing it. From the Seattle Times

The supervisor – the only controller scheduled for duty in the tower around midnight Tuesday when incident occurred – had fallen asleep, said an aviation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident…

The pilots of the two commercial planes were unable to reach the tower, but they were in communication with a regional air traffic control facility, Knudson said. That facility is in Warrenton, Va., about 40 miles from the airport…

After pilots were unable to raise the airport tower by radio, they asked controllers in Warrenton to call the tower, Knudson said. Repeated calls to the tower went unanswered, he said…

“The FAA is looking into staffing issues and whether existing procedures were followed appropriately,” agency spokeswoman Laura Brown said in an email. [Emphasis added.]

In its post-incident investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board is finding that Washington National is not the only air terminal with one person on duty over night. Aren’t there rules about this sort of thing?

Now we find that Tucson International Airport is among those airport terminals with a lone controller at night.

Anyone who has driven alone at night on a boring interstate knows that one person working alone all night is just not safe. I’m sure this is not the first time an air traffic controller has fallen asleep.

Two issues unions fight for are safety and good working conditions. Air traffic controllers haven’t been unionized since the early 1980s– thanks to Reagan.

A little history lesson… the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was a union that represented the nation’s air traffic controllers from 1968 to 1981 when the Reagan Administration broke a PATCO strike, fired 11,345 air traffic controllers, and banned them from federal service. Some unionists see busting the PATCO union as a turning point in the history of labor in the US.

Destroying a union that actually supported him in the election against Carter is part of Reagan’s legacy. Now we can add unsafe skies to Reagan’s legacy.

6 comments on “Sleepy air traffic controllers: Could it happen in Tucson? You betcha.

  1. Don "Crude" Craig
    March 26, 2011

    Ms. Powers, one sentence (Air traffic controllers haven’t been unionized since the early 1980s– thanks to Reagan.) is not correct.
    NATCA (National Air Traffic Controllers Association) is the current union for controllers and other groups within the FAA.   NATCA started in 1985 and became certified in 1987.

    Click to access NATCABrochure7_2007.pdf

    Everything else in your article is spot on and quite accurate.  Labor took a tremendous hit during Reagan’s term and the current crop of Republicans are right now attempting to do away with unions altogether.
    Don “Crude” Craig  –  X-D10


  2. Fear the soicalist left and the crazy right
    March 26, 2011

    It sounds rose to blame the down fall of the union on Reagen but the truth is it was on the decline for thirty years prior and he busted the controllers union to stop them from shutting down the entire aviation industry and every person trying to get somewhere in the name of higher pay.  What a powerful weapon to use at the expense and hardship of hundreds of thousands of people.  This is the reason most states prevent, by law, striking of police officers, firefighters etc.   So you can complain all day long, but the fact is the union has had little to do with the middle class for thirty years and now more than ever has almost no impact on work environment beyond pay for only 12% of Americans.  So no wonder they want pressure based open ballots, which only has one out come, unionization by peer pressure, and they say the morons on the right are trying to bring down the American way, how more un-American can you get than open ballot.
    I applaud the labor movement and what it has done but having been in three unions and also having held jobs in nonunion shops, the only thing I saw was an ok pay scale and a whole lot of people that would not have made it a week in a nonunion shop due to being lazy, apathetic, or out right incompetent.  I also have always made more when not in a union which is ironic if you think that you have to be in a union to be middle class…..


  3. leftfield
    March 26, 2011

    It sounds rose to blame the down fall of the union on Reagen (sic)…

    You can blame ‘State’s Rights’ Ronnie for all sorts of bad things.  The demented old codger was responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of people in Central America, so union-busting was not the worst of his despicable crimes against humanity.  And he had greasy hair!  I hate greasy hair!


    • Fear the soicalist left and the crazy right
      March 27, 2011

      And this is different than Obama running off to bomb in Libya without congressional approval?  Yes Qaddafi is a bad guy and probably needed to be bombed but are you saying that cartel condoning governments did not climb to the same level?  Oh wait its Obama and he does all that he does to help the little people that get squashed by rich people….  He would never want to take the power from the people…  No he just wishes that the courts went further to redistribute wealth by force…..  Or worse wants to OK open ballots in unions so people can course and pressure people into unions so they can rebuild there falling numbers and power……  On a second note I also do not like greasy hair.


    • Fear the soicalist left and the crazy right
      March 27, 2011

      On second thought your statement about state’s rights brings me to think that the following statement is pretty clear
      “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
      Not a right or left statement but sure it clear to me, maybe I failed to understand the term “are reserved”   But hey why not give away your rights so you can obtain a false sense of fairness and security.


      • leftfield
        March 27, 2011

        Yeah, except the demented senile old man was not talking about the constitution.  He was talking about his support for preserving white privilege.  You know, protecting them against those mythical “welfare queens”; the ones you imagine are having lots of babies, watching their big screen TVs (‘they got big screen TV’s.  I got a job and I don’t even have a big screen TV.  It ain’t fair I tell ya’.), drinking heavily and generally living a life of ease on YOUR tax dollar that them ‘libs’ is taking from you by force. 


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on March 26, 2011 by in jobs, Tucson, unions and tagged , , , , .
Follow Tucson Progressive on WordPress.com


The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

%d bloggers like this: