Air traffic controller dozes as two planes land

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AN INVESTIGATION has been launched in the United States after two passenger planes were forced to land without the help of an airport's lone air traffic controller, who had apparently fallen asleep while on duty.

Pilots circled above the runway at Washington's Reagan National Airport while repeated attempts were made to contact the control tower below.

Eventually the pilots gave up and decided to land anyway, having warned nearby planes and the regional aviation hub of the situation.

An official later claimed that the only on-duty controller had fallen asleep and failed to be woken by the calls.

The Federal Aviation Administration suspended the individual last night as part of its investigation into the incident.

Around 150 passengers from two planes waited in the air as the pilots attempted to rouse the airport's traffic controller.

After receiving no response, the pilots were forced to rely on the help of a regional control tower, while at the same time using radio frequencies to warn nearby aircraft and ensure that no other flights were attempting to land at the same time.

The incident has raised concern over the level of staffing and employee fatigue at American airports.

It occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning when just one control tower supervisor was on duty.

US transport secretary Ray LaHood has since ordered the airport to have two traffic controllers on duty during the midnight shift.

"It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space," the transport secretary said.