The FAA is implementing a new controller staffing policy after a tower controller became incapacitated while working the midnight shift at McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Major airport towers no longer will be able to combine controller responsibilities to one position prior to midnight and 90 min. after the start of the shift, allowing another controller to go on break, FAA said Nov. 9.

The LAS tower controller was removed from the facility after being found incapacitated at about 11 p.m. local time on Nov. 7, according to the agency.

“The FAA is deeply concerned by the incident, is thoroughly investigating what occurred, and is taking immediate steps to modify its overnight shift staffing policies,” the agency stated. “No safety events occurred during this incident. The controller is being placed on administrative leave and restricted from working air traffic.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union that represents FAA controllers, issued the following statement in response to the agency’s action:

“NATCA will cooperate with the FAA as it investigates this incident, so that all of the facts are known. It is important to remember the outstanding work that that is done every day by the thousands of men and women who keep the National Airspace System safe. Our air traffic controllers in Las Vegas and around the country do an exceptional job day in and day out and demonstrate the highest professional standards.

“Our top concern is the safety of the National Airspace System,” the union added. “We are proud of our safety record both in Las Vegas and at every facility and will continue to work to keep our airspace system the world’s safest.”

The FAA did not describe how the Las Vegas controller was incapacitated.

In 2011, multiple incidents of controllers found sleeping while on duty led to the resignation of Henry Krakowski as COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization.

Bill Carey, bill.carey@aviationweek.com