The head of the Federal Aviation Administration ordered new safety procedures Friday, days after pilots landed two airliners at Washington's Reagan National Airport on their own as the sole air traffic controller on duty slept.
"I am determined to make sure we do not repeat Wednesday's unacceptable event," Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a release.
Babbitt ordered a "nationwide review" of the air traffic control system, directing radar controllers to confirm towers are staffed and ready to handle incoming flights. Pilots, Babbitt said, should be offered the option to divert to another airport if they cannot reach the control tower.
The new regulations come a day after long-time air-traffic control supervisor Dan Creedon was suspended for falling asleep on the job at Reagan National. Earlier in the week, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Wednesday ordered control towers to be staffed with at least two people on late night shifts.
But critics assert the federal government response to the incident is impractical as the federal debt ceiling looms ahead and Congress is locked in a months-long debate over federal spending cuts.
"Unfortunately, the Administration's call for increased staffing at Reagan National, where there are no flights during the early morning hours, is a typical bureaucratic response," Florida Republican Rep. John Mica said Thursday.
"In difficult financial times for the nation, it is critical that we utilize our limited resources in the most responsible fashion without compromising safety," he argued. The lawmaker is instead calling for a different kind of government response - an investigation spearheaded by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Mica chairs.
"It does not make a lot of sense to spend money to put someone else up there," public policy expert Andrew Langer concurred on FOX News Saturday. Langer is the head of the Institute for Liberty, a national security policy think tank.
And Langer says the agency should handle the incident as a national security issue - not as a staffing problem. "What needs to happen in the case of Washington, D.C. is [to] figure out why the Department of Homeland Security, why the Department of Defense, why the Reagan National Airport police were not notified to go and check on the tower to make sure there was not a more serious situation. Putting someone else in the tower is not going to take care of those things."
Congressional hearings have not yet been scheduled.