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Press Release – NASA Controller Fatigue Assessment Report Q&A

For Immediate Release

August 10, 2015
Contact: Laura J. Brown
Phone: Email: laura.j.brown@faa.gov


What steps has the FAA taken to relieve the problem of controller fatigue?
In 2012, the FAA implemented a comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management System to manage controller fatigue.  This Fatigue Risk Management System includes policy and practice changes, along with fatigue education to raise awareness about the personal responsibilities associated with managing fatigue.

Some of the changes the FAA has made as part of the Fatigue Risk Management System include:

  • Allowing for recuperative breaks when no duties are assigned
  • Requiring nine hours off duty where a day shift follows an evening shift
  • Requiring positive confirmation of air traffic hand-offs during midnight operations
  • Restricting consecutive midnight shifts
  • Restricting 10-hour midnight shifts
  • Restricting the start time of early morning day shifts that precede a midnight shift
  • Allowing controllers to self-declare fatigue and take time off if needed to recuperate

Has the FAA’s policy on napping on breaks changed? How about napping during overnight shifts?
Yes, we updated our policy in 2012.  Based on staffing and workload – and when no duties are assigned – we offer employees break opportunities to attend to personal needs, rejuvenate their mental acuity, and other similar activities. These break opportunities are available on all work shifts, including overnight shifts.

Does the FAA still prohibit schedules with a single controller on duty after midnight?
The FAA makes a practice of staffing at least two controllers on midnight shifts. There could be situations in which an individual calls in sick, but that is not standard.  On those rare occasions, we have implemented additional procedures to ensure controller alertness.

How has controller scheduling changed? Is the minimum 9 hours off between work shifts announced after these events still in effect? Does this apply to all work shifts, or just the 2-2-1 rotation?
Yes, we have changed our scheduling policies and practices.  These changes include:

  • Requiring nine hours off duty where a day shift follows an evening shift
  • Restricting consecutive midnight shifts
  • Restricting the number of 10-hour midnight shifts
  • Restricting the start time of early morning day shifts that precede a midnight shift to ensure night time sleep opportunities

The minimum nine hours off between work shifts is an ongoing requirement under Joint Order 7210.3.  It doesn’t apply to all shifts. It applies to all schedules where a day shift follows an evening shift (this protects nighttime sleep opportunity).

Does the FAA believe the problem of controller fatigue has improved? Do you have any metrics to judge that by?
We believe it has improved.  Although fatigue is an issue in any 24/7 operation, the FAA has taken many positive steps to minimize fatigue.  The fatigue modeling we’ve done shows that there is greater alertness using these updated scheduling practices.   

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