Sleeping air traffic controllers given new shift rules

Apr 17 2011

_52168260_pum7aiet.gifThe US aviation agency is changing air traffic controllers' work scheduling in the wake of several incidents in which controllers fell asleep on duty.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would do "everything we can to put an end to this".

In Miami, another controller fell asleep on duty at a radar facility that handles high altitude air traffic.

In the past month, a number of planes have landed safely at US airports without controller guidance.

The head of the US air traffic control agency, Hank Krakowski, who oversaw the day-to-day operations of 15,000 controllers at 400 airports, resigned on Thursday.

'Real difference'

US aviation officials said scheduling practices most likely to result in tired controllers would be ended by the end of the coming week.

"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."

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement: "We are taking important steps today that will make a real difference in fighting air traffic controller fatigue. But we know we'll need to do more."

After the changes take effect controllers will have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts - an increase from the current minimum of eight. Shift swaps that mean controllers end up with quicker turnaround times will be banned.

In addition managers will be expected to schedule their working hours with the aim of being at work across busy periods.

On Wednesday, Mr Babbitt announced that the FAA would place an additional air traffic controller on the midnight shift at 27 control towers across the country. Previously, they had been staffed with only one controller during that shift.

The issue rose to prominence last month when two jets were forced to land at about midnight at Reagan National Airport, near Washington DC, without help from the local control tower.

The pilots, who carried 165 people aboard the two planes, were unable to raise the tower controller on the radio, and a subsequent investigation revealed he had inadvertently fallen asleep during the shift.

The agency also said that a controller had been suspended on Saturday morning at a busy regional facility that handles high-altitude air traffic in Miami for napping while on duty.

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