FAA Says Air Traffic Controllers Not Allowed to Sleep While on Duty

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By on July 2, 2011 in Current Events with 34 Comments

The Federal Aviation Administration reached an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Union on Friday that reinforces existing FAA policy that prohibits controllers from sleeping while on duty. Controllers will continue to be provided breaks on the midnight shift based on staffing and workload.

The agreement also states that controllers must report for work well rested and alert, and if necessary, they can request use sick or annual leave if they feel they are too tired to work.

“Air traffic controllers have the responsibility to report rested and ready to work so they can safely perform their operational duties,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.  “But we also need to make sure we have the right policies in place to reduce the possibility of fatigue in the workplace.”

Air traffic controllers will now also be allowed to listen to the radio and read while on duty during the hours of 10 PM to 6 AM, but as air traffic permits.

The FAA had previously adjusted work schedules to give air traffic controllers a minimum of nine hours off between shifts. The FAA and NATCA will develop new watch schedule principles that incorporate fatigue science for schedules beginning no later than September 1, 2012. The FAA and NATCA are already beginning to work with local facilities on watch schedules that reduce the possibility of fatigue in the transition from the day shift to the midnight shift.

“The American public must have confidence that our nation’s air traffic controllers are rested and ready to work,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We have the safest air transportation system in the world but we needed to make changes and we are doing that.”

For controllers with sleep apnea, the FAA has agreed to develop policies that will encourage seeking medial help for the condition. Currently, air traffic controllers lose their medical qualification if they are diagnosed with sleep apnea, but the FAA will work to develop a process for most air traffic controllers to regain their medical qualification once they receive proper treatment.

Under the agreement, the FAA will develop a Fatigue Risk Management System for air traffic operations by January of next year. This management system will be designed to collect and analyze data associated with work schedules, including work intensity, to ensure that the schedules are not increasing the possibility of fatigue. The FAA is also designing a comprehensive fatigue awareness and education training program for employees.

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.