Should air traffic controllers take naps?

April 21, 2011 3:18:48 PM PDT
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a proposal to allow traffic controllers to take naps during their shifts won't happen on his watch.

LaHood spoke about the recent rash of drowsy and distracted air traffic controllers from Chicago Thursday. He was in town for a distracted driving summit.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which controls airspace over the Chicago region, said there have been no reports of controllers catching catnaps here. Some companies, such as Nike, Pizza Hut and Burlington Northern Railway, allow on-duty napping at approved times. So why wouldn't the high-stress field of air traffic control?

On Thursday, LaHood flatly rejected the idea of building nap time into the work day of air traffic controllers, which is common in Europe.

"We've actually fired two controllers for napping so we're not about to say we're for paying controllers for napping," LaHood. "I've been in this job two and a half years and the first I heard of a sleeping or napping controller was when I heard about the incident at Washington National airport."

From planes to trains, LaHood is also being lobbied for more money to build regional high speed rail service with Chicago as a hub. Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida are rejecting federal funds.

On Thursday, Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk sent a letter asking for that cash. They wrote, "A significant federal investment into this region will create a rail system that could carry nearly as much traffic as regional air service"

The transportation secretary is also meeting with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to go over his transit wish list, which includes a five mile, $1.2 billion southern extension to the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line and fast-track train service between downtown and O'Hare International Airport.

"As you know we have a set of challenges this big and wrapping paper that is this big," Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said.

: "They need to tell us what their priorities are and if this is a priority for Mayor-elect Emanuel, it'll be a priority for DOT," LaHood said.

Emanuel's aides said LaHood and the mayor-elect also discussed federal funding to finish the Bloomingdale Trail, which is a bike route on old rail tracks connecting Bucktown, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. Emanuel's transit team will soon head to Washington, D.C. in search of federal money for these projects and others.