FAA ramps up air traffic control at Richmond International Airport

HENRICO (WWBT) - There will be more eyes on the skies above Richmond International Airport after several scary incidents at airports across the country.

RIC is one of 27 different airports that will now be required to have additional air traffic controllers during their midnight shift. The move comes after a controller fell asleep while a medical flight carrying an ill passenger was trying to land at the airport in Reno, Nevada.

The average passenger won't even notice a difference, but government officials are hopeful these changes will prevent another embarrassing incident.

It was perhaps the worst case scenario. An air traffic controller asleep on the job in Reno, Nevada, as a medical flight carrying an ill patient tries to land.

During the audio recording of the event the pilot can be heard saying, "No luck on ground clearance or tower." An air traffic controller in another location replies, "We're gonna try him on am outside line so stand-by."

The pilot landed safely, but needed the help of a Northern California radar controller.

Reno-Tahoe Airport officials struggled to explain what happened.

"At no time, was safety compromised," said Krys Bart a spokesperson for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. "The airport takes this matter very, very seriously."

The FAA decided enough is enough. They already made small changes in the wake of a two jetliners landing at Reagan National without assistance and another report of a controller falling asleep in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood reacted with anger.

"I am totally outraged by these incidents," he said in a written statement. "This is absolutely unacceptable".

The FAA will now require additional controllers at 27 different airports, including Richmond International.

At RIC there generally isn't a lot of scheduled commercial traffic during the midnight shift, but that doesn't mean the controllers up in their towers aren't busy.

The local airport still handles chartered and courier flights during those hours and it is not uncommon for commercial flights to get delayed past midnight.

Those flights will now have additional help, getting them safely on the ground as they arrive in Central Virginia.

The changes at air traffic control towers are effective immediately.

FAA officials will also visit airports across the country to make sure appropriate safety members are in place.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.