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FAA Changes Schedules for Air Traffic Controllers After 8 Sleep on the Job This Year

FAA Changes Schedules for Air Traffic Controllers After 8 Sleep on the Job This Year

After yet another air traffic controller was suspended last week for falling asleep on the job, the Federal Aviation Administration has announced that it is changing their schedules so its employees are less likely to suffer from fatigue. A controller nodded off while on the job on a late-Friday-to-Saturday-morning shift at the Miami enroute control center, the eighth such instance this year. The controller was suspended on Saturday.

In January, one controller fell asleep twice on the same shift in January. In Feburary, two pilots had to land their jetliners on their own at after Washington Reagan National Airport after a controller fell asleep around midnight. Just last week, a controller in Nevada went to sleep for almost 16 minutes and an airborne ambulance carrying a patient had to land on its own.

Midnight shifts typically begin around 10 pm and end at 6am and roughly about one-third of shifts are midnight ones. Controllers in the US are not allowed to take naps during breaks, though controllers in some other countries including Germany and Japan can. The New York Times points out that “scientists say it would be surprising if controllers didn’t doze sometimes because they are trying to stay awake during the time of day when the body naturally craves sleep.” 30 percent to 50 percent of night-shift workers report falling asleep at least once on the job once a week, according to Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Indeed, the New York Times also cites interviews of present and former air traffic controllers by the Associated Press in which they (anonymously) noted that “on midnight shifts, one controller will work two positions while the other one sleeps and then they switch off.”

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the head of the FAA’s traffic-control organization stepped down last week under pressure. Under the just-announced FAA regulations, it’s suggested that overnight shifts end at 2am instead of at dawn. At the suggestion of fatigue experts, the FAA is considering prohibiting controllers from working four consecutive overnight shifts or adding extra work hours into shifts, so they can have three consecutive work days off.

Should the FAA follow other countries and let air traffic controllers nap on their shifts?

 

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52 comments

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8:05PM PST on Feb 20, 2013

Hey .. fact is that jobs like air traffic controllers, 911 dispatchers, etc, should be held accountable for sleeping on the job. YOU'RE the ones we all depend on and have the responsibility to be at the controls! I am a dispatcher and have worked the midnight shifts...often they are 16 hr shifts- I can empathize that you're exhausted and stressed and just flat ... but sleeping on the job can get someone killed. Sleep later.

6:59PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Sue T.,would you like the controllers to fall asleep while your in the air? How well do you get along without sleep?

6:51PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Sue T. During their BREAK.

8:08PM PDT on Apr 29, 2011

Oh yeah...please pay me to sleep on my job! Government workers....gggrrrrr

8:18AM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

These government departments get stupider and stupider...Talk about the dumbing-down of America...it's an accomplished fact!

8:16AM PDT on Apr 22, 2011

You falling asleep on the job while I'm in the air, makes me an unhappy camper.

2:48PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

this is the result of Reagan bullying the unions.. great example of why there need to be rules and laws set up to protect everyone..

12:36PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

It is a no brainer that one person in a control tower may easiliy fall asleep. Also these crazy shifts that force people to work hours without adequate sleep between shifts, why wouldn't people fall asleep inadvertantly? Of course, there should be two people in a control tower to keep each other awake, especially when, for economy reasons, they are expected to work shifts consistently that leave them sleep deprived.

Ronald Reagan, who contributed to this situation, apparantly wasn't affected by this kind of work regimen, which he helped encourage; we are told he occasionally dozed at meetings. I suppose other CEOs and the time and motions people in their offices may occasionally doze off too, but that doesn't affect anybody much, because their underlings carry on in spite of the inadequacies.

It's all a part of the crazy compulsion to cut costs no matter what that does to people. The people who benefit are the people who make $6,000.000 a year plus bonuses and stock optiions, who keep up three to nine houses in many parts of the world or/and milliion dollar yachts. They benefit, of course, but no one else does enough.

Not only is the problem there in control towers. Just wait until more of the infrastructure of the country goes and people in their cars start crashing down into rivers or down onto the highway below the entrance and exit ramps they were driving on, as ill maintained bridges and ramps collapse under them, because taxes have constantly been cut so ther

9:19AM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Maybe I misunderstood. It said the shift was 10 to 6 which is 8 hours. If I went to my job and slept on the job I would be fired. I know the job is stressful but it is their job to show up at the appointed time and do their shift. If they are tired then find another job and quit taking chances with peoples lives.

8:51AM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Anthony G. points from first-hand experience to what the underlying problem is (in addition to shift work being so hard on the body): In 1981 Ronald Reagan, almost as his first act as president, broke the traffic controllers strike, and their union. Unions advocate for the safety, health and well-being of their workers, and consequently for OUR safety -- which is more clear in this situation than in most. It is ironic then that the first we heard of the problem of controllers falling asleep in their towers was at Reagan International Airport this January.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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