The results of a study from 2011 regarding fatigue among air traffic controllers have finally been made public. Federal Aviation Administration officials had repeatedly refused to furnish a copy of the report to the press, and now that the Associated Press has obtained a copy of the report, the results are shocking. The report found that most air traffic controllers’ schedules lead to chronic fatigue. The fatigue makes them less alert, which can endanger the safety of the air traffic system. The study was done as a result of a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board to the FAA and National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
The study found that almost 2 out of 10 controllers had committed significant errors in the past year, and almost half blamed the errors on fatigue. About one-third of controllers said they thought fatigue was an extreme safety risk. More than 6 out of 10 stated that in the previous year, they had fallen asleep or experienced a lapse in attention while driving to or from midnight shifts.
The controllers also reported getting significantly less sleep than most people need to function properly, especially when working midnight shifts. Controllers only obtain an average of 5.8 hours of sleep per night over the course of a week. Some only averaged a little over three hours before some shifts. The most grueling schedules for most controllers involves five straight midnight shifts, or working six days a week, several weeks in a row.
The report also involved a field study, in which researchers focused most of their attention on controllers who jammed five eight-hour shifts into four 24-hour periods, a popular schedule because it allows for three-day weekends. The field study required controllers to wear wrist devices that recorded sleep time, and required controllers to keep logs of their sleep and take alertness tests.
The study concluded that 76 percent of the controllers in the field study worked schedules that led to chronic fatigue. The study made some recommendations to the FAA, such as the mandatory six-day schedules be discontinued, as over 30 percent of controllers who worked six-day schedules admitted to making an error in the last year. However, three years after the report was issued, six-day schedules are still common.
The study was completed after a serious of incidents that involved controllers falling asleep on the job. In 2011, two airliners landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. without assistance from the control tower after the only controller on duty had fallen asleep. In 2006, a regional airliner crashed while taking off from a runway in Lexington, Kentucky that was too short. Forty-nine of the 50 passengers and crew members on board were killed. The controller who allowed the plane to take off did not notice it had turned onto the wrong runway. The controller had been working all night and only had two hours sleep in the previous 24 hours.
Air traffic controllers are some of the most critical personnel involved in air traffic safety. If they are not properly rested, passengers’ lives are put at risk. What is most disturbing is that four years after this report was released, that the FAA has failed to ensure that air traffic controllers are given schedules that allow them more time to rest.
If you or a loved one has been injured led in a plane crash, time is of the essence. It is critical that you speak with an attorney right away to protect your legal rights and obtain necessary evidence. In most cases, it can be difficult to determine who is liable for a plane crash. There are many different parties involved, including pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics, airline employees, and others.
Call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco Airplane Accident attorney at 415-896-1000 or 510-645-1000 to learn more about what steps you should take after an airplane or helicopter collision. She will provide you with a free consultation on your case. Call today to learn more.