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Mon, Apr 18, 2011

FAA Changes ATC Schedules To Combat Fatigue

A Rash Of Controllers Found Sleeping On The Job Prompts The Move

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt (pictured) is prohibiting scheduling practices that have been identified as those most likely to result in air traffic controller fatigue. The changes are in effect as of Monday morning.
"We are taking swift action to ensure the safety of our aviation system," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "There is no excuse for air traffic controllers to be sleeping on the job. We will do everything we can to put an end to this."

The planned changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts. "We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers. We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. "Safety is our top priority and we will continue to make whatever changes are necessary."

"Research shows us that giving people the chance for even an additional one hour of rest during critical periods in a schedule can improve work performance and reduce the potential for fatigue," said Babbitt. "Taking advantage of the time you have to rest is also a professional responsibility."

The new scheduling rules have already been put in place and will be fully in effect by the end of the week:

  • Controllers will now have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts.  Currently they may have as few as eight.
  • Controllers will no longer be able to swap shifts unless they have a minimum of 9 hours off between the last shift they worked and the one they want to begin.
  • Controllers will no longer be able to switch to an unscheduled midnight shift following a day off.
  • FAA managers will schedule their own shifts in a way to ensure greater coverage in the early morning and late night hours.

FAA Administrator Babbitt and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi (pictured) traveled to Atlanta on Monday, where they began their Call to Action on air traffic control safety and professionalism meetings. The goal of the Call to Action is to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards.

Over the course of this week, they will visit air traffic facilities in and around the following cities: Atlanta; Dallas - Ft. Worth; Kansas City; Chicago; New York; and Washington, DC. The two will also visit the air traffic control training academy at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.

Senior members of both FAA and NATCA leadership teams will also be visiting additional FAA facilities nationwide over the next few weeks. In addition to changes in scheduling practices, the Call to Action effort will include the development of a fatigue education program to teach controllers the risks of fatigue and how to avoid it. The FAA will also commission an independent review of the air traffic control training curriculum and qualifications to make sure new controllers are properly prepared.

NATCA will expand its own Professional Standards program nationwide which focuses on peer-to-peer education for controllers on how to maintain the highest degree of professional conduct.

The FAA suspended another air traffic controller early Saturday morning for falling asleep while on duty during the midnight shift at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center. According to a preliminary review of air traffic tapes, the controller did not miss any calls from aircraft and there was no operational impact.  Prior to the start of the shift, all controllers were given a briefing on professionalism and the importance of reporting to work fit for duty.  The incident was reported to a manager by another controller.  There were 12 controllers on duty and two managers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt were briefed on the incident early Saturday by David Grizzle, acting chief operating officer of the Air Traffic Organization.

Last Wednesday, Secretary LaHood (pictured) and FAA Administrator Babbitt announced that the FAA would place an additional air traffic controller on the midnight shift at airport control towers and other facilities around the country that were staffed with only one controller during that time.

"NATCA stands in full support of the FAA's immediate steps both today (Saturday) and last week to address the recent incidents, including (the) episode at Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center," said union president Paul Rinaldi in a statement. "NATCA and the FAA are in agreement that fatigue and scheduling must be addressed and I applaud and thank Administrator Babbitt for taking quick and decisive action ... to address a large part of the problem and implement immediate steps.
"This latest incident earlier today (Saturday) is of great concern, as it is never acceptable when we don't provide the level of service expected and required of us on every shift. We take our responsibilities very seriously and believe fatigue is a significant factor in these instances. We will continue to work with the FAA and through our professional standards workgroup to address the issue. Because there was adequate staffing in this large regional radar facility at the time, the incident was caught without any operational impact and no aircraft calls were missed. This shows that one part of the FAA's plan for addressing this issue announced last week - adding additional staffing on the midnight shift at airport towers - was a wise move."
Rinaldi said the union's main focus is upholding our highest standards of professionalism, and working with the FAA to reduce the effects of fatigue. "To that end," he said, "the Administrator has made a smart move ... to prohibit scheduling practices that have been identified as those most likely to result in air traffic controller fatigue."
Rinaldi said the guideposts for further action are the recommendations of the FAA-NATCA joint workforce on fatigue, which were the result of a year and a half of efforts. They provide science-based, healthy solutions to reducing controller fatigue.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org


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