Washington, DC— Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“As the country learned today, there was a terrifyingly close call at the Reno airport last night. It is a miracle that everyone is okay. We’re grateful that they are.
“This is what happened: Only one air-traffic controller was in the tower during last night’s overnight shift. A medical aircraft carrying a critically ill passenger couldn’t land because that controller fell asleep on the job.
“We now know that the pilot circled the airport several times. He tried to call the tower not once or twice, but seven times. The controller slept through every one of those calls.
“More than 15 minutes later – minutes during which no one could reach the air-traffic controller while a critically ill passenger suffered – the pilot landed without any guidance from the airport.
“This shouldn’t happen in Nevada. It shouldn’t happen anywhere in the country. It shouldn’t happen to any airplane. And it certainly shouldn’t happen to an air ambulance.
“I spoke today with the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and I’m pleased he’s acting quickly to make sure this doesn’t happen ever again – in Reno, or anywhere else.
“Why did it happen? Reno was one of 27 airports in the country that sometimes had only one air-traffic controller on the overnight shift. Because of Secretary LaHood’s quick action, there will now be zero. Effective immediately, every airport will have at least two controllers in the tower.
“I’ve flown into and out of that airport in Reno many times. In October, I was there for the opening of its new control tower. It was badly needed. When the Reno airport’s old control tower was built, Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.
“In the half century since, the area’s population more than tripled. So it was fitting, we said at the time, that the airport opened a control tower three times as tall as the old one.
“But last night’s near-tragedy reminds us that state-of-the-art structures and the best technology work only as well as the people operating them. If those people fall asleep on the job, they risk the lives of the millions of Americans who fly into and out of our airports every day.
“Secretary LaHood and Randy Babbitt, the FAA Administrator, are doing their jobs. I appreciate their responsiveness and share their outrage that this ever happened.
“Congress has a role to play, too, and we have to do our job. The Senate passed a bill in February – two months ago – to modernize America’s air travel. It would improve aviation safety and protect travelers. It would even help reduce delays, and improve access to rural communities. And it would do all of this while creating jobs.
“The Republican House also passed a companion bill this month. But the House bill is almost the opposite of ours. It’s dangerous. It doesn’t protect passengers; it imperils them.
“The Republican bill would cut the modern navigation systems at our nation’s airports. The FAA said that the House bill would force it to furlough safety-related employees. Not just any employees – those whose primary job is keeping air travel safe. That doesn’t make any sense.
“It would also keep airports from making the infrastructure improvements they need, and would completely end the program that ensures rural communities – small towns like Ely, Nevada – have air service.
“The Senate-passed bill and the House-passed bill are now in conference committee to work out the differences. Clearly, there are a lot of differences, and the conferees have some choices to make. But they need to make them quickly so that both houses can pass this bill and send it to the President.
“Again, we’re grateful that everyone in Reno is okay. But the next time, we may not be so lucky.
“Let’s make our airports and air travel as safe as possible, as soon as possible, so that next time, we don’t have to rely on luck.”