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Air controller axed for watching movie on duty

Washington: An American air traffic controller has been axed for watching a movie when he was supposed to keep an eagle’s eye on hovering passenger aircraft.

The lapse not only cost the controller his job, but a suspension also for his frontline manager and an unending embarrassment for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which had to take action last week after five personnel were found sleeping on the job.

The controller, CNN quoting an FAA statement reported, was discovered watching a movie on a portable DVD player, while working in a radar position at the Cleavland Air Route Traffic Control Centre that handles high-altitude air traffic.

For a little more than three minutes, the controller’s microphone was activated, transmitting the audio of the 2007 crime thriller ‘Cleaner’ to all the planes in the airspace that the controller was supposed to be monitoring, the federal agency said.

It said the controller’s microphone got struck, preventing him from hearing incoming calls or issuing instructions to the aircraft during the incident. The erring controller was alerted to problems he was creating by a pilot of a military aircraft using an alternative frequency.

The FAA stepped in immediately and suspended the controller who was not named and also a manager at the Oberlin Centre. The incident came to light as the FAA and union representatives opened a workshop in Atlanta to discuss safety at air traffic control centres.

To date, the FAA has suspended seven controllers for failing to stay awake at work. Besides Miami, cases of sleeping controller have been reported from Washington, Tennessee, Knoxville, Seattle, Reno and Nevada. Two suspected cases are being investigated in Lubbock and Texas.

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