Aviation News

April 17, 2011

FAA to Impose New Air Traffic Controller Scheduling Rules

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Saturday announced it is prohibiting certain scheduling practices after yet another air traffic controller fell asleep while on duty.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt made the announcement in a statement, saying certain scheduling practices have been identified as those most likely to result in air traffic controller fatigue. He said the changes will be effective by Tuesday.

“We are taking important steps today that will make a real difference in fighting air traffic controller fatigue. But we know we will need to do more. This is just the beginning,” said Babbitt. He gave no details on what kind of measures these would be.

Meanwhile, the announcement came as the FAA confirmed that yet another air traffic controller had fallen 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 FAA said, 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.

The FAA said in a statement that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Babbitt were briefed on the incident by David Grizzle, acting chief operating officer of the Air Traffic Organization.

“We are taking swift action to ensure the safety of our aviation system,” said 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.”

Meanwhile, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) welcomed the FAA steps to address a number of incidents in which air traffic controllers fell asleep while on duty.

“This latest incident earlier today 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,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “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.”

Last Wednesday, LaHood and 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.