In the dead of night, the air traffic control tower at Tucson International Airport is one of the loneliest places in town.

One person works the graveyard shift, a practice coming under scrutiny as part of a nationwide review of air traffic control staffing at America's airports.

TIA is one of several around the country that have a single staffer on duty overnight, a practice thrust into the spotlight this week when a lone air traffic controller on duty at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport reportedly fell asleep on the job.

Two Washington-bound airliners touched down safely by staying in radar contact with a regional facility that watched over the jets as they landed.

The Reagan National controller was working his fourth overnight shift in a row and was suspended from operational duties while a probe is in progress, officials said.

In the aftermath, Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood assigned two controllers to staff the overnight shift at Reagan National and ordered the Federal Aviation Administration "to study staffing levels at other airports around the country," a news release said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association told the Associated Press that Tucson is among several airports staffed by one controller overnight.

TIA is one of four airports in Arizona that holds the designation of "international airport." By federal statute, the designation means flights coming from the south must stop at one of these airports for customs clearance. It also means the airports are required to be available 24 hours a day for international flights, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix holds international "landing rights" and can refuse an international flight if it's landing after hours or at an inconvenient time. Arizona's international airports - Tucson, Yuma, Nogales and Douglas - may not refuse an international flight.

The Tucson Airport Authority, which runs TIA, could not be reached for comment Friday and an official for the FAA would not comment for this story, citing the open investigation.

The national air traffic controllers union maintains that having a single person on duty overnight is inherently risky.

"One-person shifts are unsafe. Period," said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said he was "outraged" by what occurred at Washington National.

"As a former airline pilot, I am personally outraged that this controller did not meet his responsibility to help land (the) two planes," Babbitt said. "I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.

flight scanner The Air Flight Scanner monitors radio activity at Tucson International Airport tower.
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10-1     Receiving poorly
10-2     Loud and clear
10-3     Stop transmitting
10-4     Message received
10-5     Relay message
10-7     Out of service
10-8     In service
10-9     Repeat message
10-10     Break, subject to call
10-15     Prisoner in custody
10-16     Prisoner transporation unit
10-18     As soon as possible; immediately
10-20     Location
10-21     Telephone
10-23     At the scene
10-24     Assignment completed
10-25     Message; information
10-26     Detaining subject - expedite response
10-27     Driver's license information
10-28     Vehicle registration information
10-29     Check for wanted or stolen
10-30     Special check
10-31     Family fight
10-33     Disturbance
10-34     Bomb threat
10-35     Larceny
10-36     Burglary
10-37     Burglary in progress
10-39     Major incident tone
10-40     Prowler
10-41     Drunk
10-42     Malicious mischief; vandalism
10-43     Armed robbery
10-44     Sexual assault
10-45     Meet at...
10-46     Fueling unit
10-47     Lost/Missing person
10-48     Runaway juvenile
10-50     Auto accident - no injury
10-52     Auto accident - with injury
10-53     Auto accident - fatal
10-55     Drunk driver
10-58     Wrecker
10-59     Ambulance
10-60     Miscellaneous patrol activity
10-64     Call paperwork
10-65     Call followup
10-66     Briefing/debriefing
10-67     Court
10-68     Training
10-69     Miscellaneous administrative activity
10-70     Fire
10-72     Rescue/paramedic unit
10-81     Stop and field interview
10-82     Stop and arrest
10-83     2 or more units transmitting
10-84     Backup unit
10-91     TPD freq 1; South
10-92     TPD freq 2; West
10-93     TPD freq 3; Midtown
10-94     TPD freq 4; East
10-95     TPD freq 5; crosstalk
10-96     TPD freq 6
10-97     TPD freq 7
10-99     Officer urgently needs assistance
Signal codes
Code 0     Employee's residence
Code 1     Clear to receive confidential message
Code 2     Urgent response
Code 4     No further assistance needed
Code 7     Out of service to eat
Code 11     Santa Cruz Substation
Code 12     Rilito Substation
Code 13     Midtown Substation
Code 14     Rincon Substation
Code 15     Traffic Substation
Code 16     Heliport
Code 19     Headquarters Building
ALPHA list
A     ADAM
B     BOY
I     IDA
J     JOHN
K     KING
M     MARY
N     NORA
P     PAUL
S     SAM
T     TOM
X     XRAY
Ethnic/racial descriptions
Descriptions (such as, "Suspect is a No. 5 male..."):

1 - Hispanic
2 - Indian
3 - black
4 - Asian / Oriental / other
5 - white
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