FAA Takes Aim At Air Traffic Controller Fatigue In New Rules

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John Oyewale Contributor
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highlighted on Friday initiatives it took to address the safety concern of air traffic controller fatigue.

The FAA set up a three-member panel of fatigue experts chaired by safety and sleep/fatigue expert and former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Mark Rosekind in December 2023. The goal was to examine this concern by reviewing controller fatigue research and proposing recommendations.

“As an initial step, I will require 10 hours off between shifts, and 12 hours off before a midnight shift, effective in 90 days, consistent with the expert panel’s recommendations,” Whitaker said in a statement.

The panel made 58 recommendations to address the risk of fatigue within the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO). Four priority recommendations were unifying the policies and risk management system for consistency’s sake, monitoring and eliminating scheduling imbalances and excessive workload, using a work schedule that better aligns with circadian principles and increasing off-duty hours to 10–12 hours, according to the report. (RELATED: ‘Listen To The Screams’: Planes Nearly Collide On Reagan Airport Runway)

“In my first few months at the helm of the FAA, I toured air traffic control facilities around the country—and heard concerns about schedules that do not always allow controllers to get enough rest,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in the statement. “With the safety of our controllers and national airspace always top of mind for FAA, I took this very seriously – and we’re taking action.”

No fewer than 13,000 individuals distributed across 313 facilities across the U.S. occupy the round-the-clock, highly sensitive position of air traffic controller, guiding 45,000 flights carrying 2.9 million passengers every day, the panel’s report states. Round-the-clock work schedules could disrupt circadian rhythms, causing sleep loss and fatigue and potentially imperiling safety, performance, health and mood, the report reveals.

The FAA is “committed to a sustained effort to address controller fatigue and ensure our airspace is the safest in the world,” Whitaker said in the statement while thanking the panel for its effort.

Whitaker’s statement follows a string of air safety incidents throughout 2024.

Conflicting air traffic controller-issued instructions at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., nearly caused two taxiing airplanes to collide at about 7:41 a.m. Thursday. Some seven minutes later, Axios released a report announcing the FAA’s advertisement of new air traffic control trainee positions, which the FAA reposted.