Hank Krakowski , head of the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Organization, the agency charged with operating U.S. air traffic control system, has resigned, an FAA official said in a statement released Thursday.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said David Grizzle, FAA's chief counsel, will assume the role of acting ATO chief operating officer, starting Thursday, while they conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
More than two dozen airports across the country have now added extra staff during the night shift.
The resignation and beefed-up staffing comes after several incidents in which controllers have been suspended, including episodes of controllers sleeping on duty.
An air traffic controller in Reno, Nev., fell asleep during an overnight shift, forcing a small medical plane carrying a sick passenger to land with no help.Officials say the sleeping controller in Nevada has been suspended.
This comes on the heels of the high-profile Reagan National Airport incident where a D.C. controller fell asleep.
"This is just outrageous behavior that will not be tolerated," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Effective immediately, 26 airports and one radar facility will have an extra person working the overnight shift. The union that represents the nation's 15,000 air traffic controllers said this is what they've been asking for all along.
"Anything can happen to a single person working in any place by themselves," said Patricia Gilbert, Air Traffic Controllers Association vice president. "It's important that they have someone there to relieve them so they can take a break if necessary."
At Reagan National Airport Thursday, travelers were stunned that those charged with landing planes at night continue to fall asleep.
"How can anybody lay pillows on the floor and actually go to sleep," said Diana Reynolds. "It's like it's pre-planned, that they'll sleep--so it is a little scary."
Although some passengers told ABC7 that it's time the government woke up, others worry that the FAA could be putting a band-aid on a problem that could use a major operation.
"They just reacted very quickly, but I don't think that's a solution for the long term," said Dominique Guess.
Babbitt said Thursday in a statement, "Over the last few weeks we have seen examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety. This conduct must stop immediately. I am committed to maintaining the highest level of public confidence and that begins with strong leadership."