ATM Modernization, Commercial

FAA Needs to Evaluate ATC Worker Fatigue, Report Says

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | June 13, 2014

[Avionics Today June 13, 2014] According to a new report issued by the United States’ National Research Council (NRC), the FAA needs to improve its models used to determine Air Traffic Controller’s (ATC) staffing needs at terminal areas and airport towers across the country. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and examined the methods used by the FAA to estimate how many controllers are needed to staff its ATC facilities on a daily basis. 

The biggest concern of the report came from the shift schedules that NRC believes contributes to worker fatigue. According to the report, the popular schedule among controllers features five eight-hour work shifts over four consecutive days, with the last one being a midnight shift. Researchers contributing to the report say that the schedule is popular because it allows controllers to have 80 hours off afterward, but it also "likely results" in reduced performance during the midnight shift due to fatigue. Recent U.S. government budget costs eliminated an FAA fatigue risk management program's ability to monitor fatigue concerns proactively, the report says. 
The report is recommending that the FAA use a wider range of data, such as accident and incident reports to provide a better formula for structuring controller schedules. 


“Other complications include the uncertainty of air traffic forecasts and the fact that a large percentage of the controllers are eligible to retire, as it can take years to train new controllers. The committee’s recommendations aim to enable controller staffing decisions that are consistent, that are driven by proper science and data analysis, and that will address relationships between ensuring safety, meeting the operational needs of the aviation community, and demonstrating cost effectiveness," said committee chair Amy Pritchett, associate professor of cognitive engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. 

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