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FAA issues new rules to combat sleeping by air traffic controllers

Last week we shared a story about the ongoing problem of napping air traffic controllers. Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules intended to prevent air traffic controllers from sleeping during overnight shifts while they are supposed to be ensuring that airplanes are directed safely to and from their destinations, and avoiding airline accidents.

Over the last few weeks numerous reports of sleeping air traffic controllers have caused a growing concern about the issue. In one case a flight from Chicago landed at Reagan International airport without any assistance from an air traffic controller who was later discovered to have been sleeping at the time.

The new rules, announced yesterday, will require that air traffic controllers have at least nine hours in between shifts. Previous regulations required only eight hours between shifts. According to the FAA studies have shown that even one additional hour of sleep reduces potential fatigue while working. The rules will also prohibit controllers from trading for an overnight shift unless the new schedule would still provide them with adequate rest.

The FAA is also developing a fatigue education program to instruct controllers about the consequences and risks of working while fatigued. They will also see that an independent review of training materials and controller qualifications standards is conducted.

Last week the FAA official responsible for overseeing air traffic controllers resigned. According to Reuters News, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that he would not tolerate sleeping air traffic controllers, "controllers will not be paid to take naps. They are going to be paid for the job they are trained to do, which is to guide planes safely."

Source: Reuters News "FAA issues new rules to keep controllers awake" April 17, 2011

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