Durbin: FAA Should Follow Recommendations to Mitigate Air Traffic Controller Fatigue

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the recommendations found in a Department of Transportation, Inspector General Report on air traffic controller fatigue released earlier today. Citing a December 2007 GAO Report which pointed to controller fatigue as a key issue affecting runway safety at the nation’s busiest airports, Durbin requested this investigation into conditions at three Chicago air traffic facilities.


“We often take for granted the enormous effort it takes to take-off, manage and land the thousands of planes that enter Chicago’s airspace on a given day,” said Durbin. “In flight, our safety rests in the hands of the highly skilled men and women that monitor the skies. As travelers, we want to know that everything is being done to ensure these controllers are well rested and alert on the job. Today’s report shows that more can be done. I urge the FAA to implement the report’s recommendations in Chicago and around the country as swiftly as possible.”


Today’s report concluded that a number of factors exist at the three Chicago air traffic facilities – Chicago O’Hare International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower, Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility, and Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center – that could cause controller fatigue. The following fatigue factors likely exist at other large air traffic control facilities around the nation:


• Minimal hours between shifts. Controllers at all three facilities were scheduled to work shifts with periods of less than 10 hours between each shift which limits the time for rest between shifts;


• Scheduled and call-up overtime. Controllers at all three facilities worked schedules that required overtime which can increase the potential for fatigue;


• On-the-job training. Controllers at all three facilities conducted on-the-job training which can be fatiguing for the instructor as it requires a high level of concentration and focus;


• Other factors. Staffing levels fall in the authorized range but do not account for the ratio of controllers to trainees that could affect controller fatigue and on-the-job training; adverse weather conditions and high-volume traffic could contribute to controller fatigue; and none of the Chicago facilities had written guidance in place suggesting how often or when controllers should rotate through more difficult positions.


The final report laid out five recommendations for action by the FAA at the national level to

mitigate potential fatigue factors and enhance the level of safety of the National Airspace System:


• The FAA should reevaluate the staffing ranges for Chicago O’Hare once the O’Hare Modernization Program is fully implemented to ensure the range is appropriate and meets the new operational needs of the facility;


• The FAA should implement the following changes to air traffic control facilities: increase the minimum rest period between shifts from 8 to 10 hours; increase the time available for rest after working a midnight shift on the fifth day of a six-day work week from 12 to 16 hours; and allow controllers to rest during their shift when not controlling traffic;


• The FAA should provide mandatory refresher training to controllers annually to reinforce fatigue awareness and mitigation strategies;


• The FAA should expand operational error investigation requirements to include more detailed information on fatigue factors, such as overtime, on-the-job training and work schedule;


• The FAA should require all facilities to establish procedures to rotate controllers through challenging and less demanding positions during each shift to mitigate the potential for fatigue.


The full text of today’s report can be found at the following address: http://www.oig.dot.gov/