FAA Acts on Air Traffic Controller Problems

Facing tough criticism for recent air traffic control lapses, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt announced changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices that will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts.

The move follows sharp public criticism of the FAA and its supervision of air traffic controllers for “napping”on the job and threatening passenger safety.

“We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers, said LaHood. “We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job. 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.

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

• 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 nine 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.

On Monday, Babbitt and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi visited Atlanta, where they will begin their call to action on air traffic control safety and professionalism meetings.

Over the course of this week, Babbit and Rinaldi will visit air traffic facilities in and around the following cities: Atlanta; Dallas- Ft. Worth; Kansas City; Chicago; New York; and Washington, D.C. 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 said it will also commission an independent review of the air traffic control training curriculum and qualifications to make sure new controllers are properly prepared.

The NATCA said it 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.

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