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Should snoozing controller at Reagan airport have had backup?

The US secretary of Transportation has asked airports to consider adding a second air-traffic controller to their overnight shifts. But one key congressman says that would be a waste of money.

A passenger jet flies past the FAA control tower at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport, Thursday, March 24. Federal safety officials are investigating an incident in which two planes landed at the airport without control tower clearance because the air traffic controller was asleep.

Cliff Owen/AP

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After an air-traffic controller was suspended for falling asleep during an overnight shift at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, federal lawmakers and officials are debating the balance between adding more personnel to increase safety and the financial costs of doing so.

On Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood directed Reagan airport to add a second controller to its overnight shift and advised other airports with only one night controller to review their staffing policies.

That action was criticized by Rep. John Mica (R) of Florida, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who called it “a typical bureaucratic response,” in a statement Thursday.

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Congressman Mica pledged to investigate the matter but noted there are few flights into Reagan airport during the night shift, and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a policy of allocating staff to match air traffic. Adding another air-traffic controller, he said, goes against that policy.

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