Making a Case for Air Traffic Controllers Sleeping on the Job

by Robinson, Marcia Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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There have been five reported incidents of air traffic controllers sleeping on the job in the last few weeks. Following the Reagan International Airport incident, air traffic controllers have been caught sleeping on the job at Reno-Tahoe airport, McGhee Tyson airport, Seattle International airport, Lubbock Preston Smith International airport and at a Miami regional radar facility providing area control services for Florida as well as parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

These incidents of air traffic controllers falling asleep come on the heels of a FAA December 2010 report showing that air traffic control errors increased 51% nationally from 2009 to 2010. At Washington DC airports, for example, air traffic control errors had more than doubled from 21 in 2009 to 52 in 2010.

In the wake of more news about air traffic controllers sleeping on the job, Hank Krakowski, Chief Air Traffic Officer with the FAA, tendered his resignation. The FAA is moving quickly on scheduling changes aimed to prevent future incidences of air traffic controllers sleeping on the job.

Changes include:

1. Increasing the number of scheduled hours between shifts from 8 to 9 hours

2. Restricting air traffic controllers' ability to swap scheduled shifts

3. Ending the scheduling practice of single-staffing for facilities with light overnight traffic

One of the changes missing from the list was making it legal for air traffic controllers to actually sleep on the job.
Since there is an abundance of evidence, even in FAA reports, demonstrating that employees succumb to mental fatigue and fall asleep at work, why is it that American air traffic controllers are not yet allowed to sleep on the job?

This practice of air traffic controllers sleeping or resting on the job, through controlled napping, is not a foreign concept. This practice is already is part of air traffic operations in other countries including France, Germany, Australia, Canada and Japan where air traffic controllers are allowed to do "controlled napping" on the job.