Fatigue can have a substantial impact on your ability to complete a task successfully. In the aviation industry, studies on fatigue have often focused on pilots. Fatigue is also a potential safety hazard for others in the aviation industry, including air traffic controllers. A study of controllers completed in 2011 shows that the typical work schedules used in the industry can lead to chronic fatigue.
The study was conducted following a recommendation by the NTSB that the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to change the way controllers were scheduled. The practices in place were not providing enough time to rest between shifts, according to the NTSB. The study involved survey responses collected from more than 3,000 air traffic controllers. It also included data collected from more than 200 controllers regarding sleep and mental alertness.
The study found that nearly 20 percent of controllers made serious mistakes in the year before the survey. More than 50 percent of the controllers blamed the errors on fatigue. More than 60 percent admitted to falling asleep or seeing their attention lapse during commutes to or from midnight shifts. Late-night shift work has been tied to fatigue in a number of industries, including the trucking industry.
According to the report, more than three-quarters of air traffic controllers work schedules that lead to chronic tiredness. One such schedule is known as the "rattler" and sees controllers work five full shifts (eight hours) in four 24-hour periods. While this gives the controllers a three-day weekend, it does not allow them time to recover enough to regain full alertness, according to researchers.
Source: NBC News, "FAA Study Shows Air Traffic Controllers Too Sleepy," by Associated Press, 11 August 2015