CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A close call when an air traffic controller allows first Lady Michelle Obama's plane to fly near a cargo jet. This comes amid multiple investigations into air traffic controllers napping on the job. They've gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks.
From overnight shift, to day shift, to morning shift, all up to eight hours each and in the same week. Ron Connelly worked as an air traffic controller for 25 years and says the work can be draining.
"I think the thing that can really make the controller's job difficult is the amount of traffic, the complexity of the traffic, and the weather. How the controller feels really factors in to that," Connelly said.
He says it's no surprise to him that air traffic controllers have been caught nodding off during the job, and it is something that has happened for years. He says new federal rules allowing air traffic controllers more time off in between shifts will help, but he also supports the FAA allowing naps during shifts, something that the federal government has not agreed to.
"Now that I'm retired I take a nap every day, a 15-20 minute nap, I feel refreshed. I feel great afterward," Connelly said. "Pilots get to nap during overseas flights. In other countries air traffic controllers there have the ability to take a nap."
These men and women are in charge of sharing vital weather information with pilots, making sure aircraft are far enough apart, and that they take off and land safely.
Connelly says in Charleston on a heavy traffic day on any given hour there could be up to 50 planes on the radar at a time and an air traffic controller has no room for error when it comes to managing the aircrafts incoming or outbound.
"You miss that one little detail, you'll put those planes right together," he said.
In the case with Michelle Obama's plane, the air traffic controller allowed it to come within three miles of a cargo jet, while FAA rules require more than five miles. The controller then had Obama's plane loop around before landing at the Andrews Air Force Base.