Posted by: harrisonjones | April 17, 2011

You’re cleared to…ZZZZZZZ

Sweet dreams and flying machines. Ahh, James Taylor was ahead of his time. It seems that a few thousand years ago our ancestors decided that humans should endeavor during the day and sleep at night. This probably had something to do with the fact that they kept stubbing their bare toes while wandering around in the dark. A few years later someone discovered fire (probably some copilot’s ancestor pushing buttons just to see what would happen) and illuminated the night for nocturnal activities. Still, our diurnal cycle (not that…I’m talking about a sleep pattern) dictates that we sleep at night. 

Now that I’ve enlightened you with the undisputed scientific facts, let’s all assume a holier than thou attitude, as humans are prone to do, and criticize the air traffic controllers who have been snoozing on their stool. (Pardon the unfortunate mental image). Let’s keep in mind that he is doing what is known as a double back. He got off work at four in the afternoon and is back in the tower at midnight for a solo shift. So what, he had eight hours to sleep, right? Well, kinda. It took an hour to drive home, and then he had to eat dinner. In bed by seven with the sun still shining bright through the drapes—toss and turn for awhile, double check the alarm clock. Ten p.m., up and at em. Shower, shave, brush your hair and comb your teeth, a quick breakfast and out the door by eleven for the hour drive to work. This is a piece of cake. 

All alone now at four in the morning. The tower is quiet but at least it’s dark and warm and cozy. No airplanes in sight for the last three hours. This is the time of night that military attacks begin because the enemy is least perceptive. The controller’s primary duty is to separate traffic. Uh…there is no traffic. The pigeons roosting below the cab ignore his commands and bump butts at will. Even if an airplane shows up, there will be no one to separate him from.  He considers another cup of coffee, but his bladder feels like a basketball already. Is there a restroom in the tower? 

Criticize all you want. Fire the guy, lock him up, or deport him. I’m just saying… Let me remind you that there are thousands of airports in the US that airplanes take off and land at with the tower unmanned at night. I included one of those in my novel, Shadow Flight. (Forgive the solicitation) In fact I have safely landed 767s full of passengers at those airports many times without the aid of a controller, sleepy or otherwise. There is a common traffic advisory frequency published for those fields and pilots report their position and intentions in the blind for any other flights in the area. The news reports about the controllers sounded like a near tragedy was averted. Personally, I would not have been in panic mode.


  1. Well put, people are meant to sleep at night and there are safety nets in place for landing at airports with no response from the tower. That is what the CTAF’s are for. Anything for a headline…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: