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"FAA knew about controller naps for years"

April 26, 2011

CNN -  In response to recent growing awareness that air traffic controllers have been falling asleep on duty due to sleepiness from working nighttime shifts, Dr. Charles Czeisler noted in an editorial piece that the FAA has known about the problem for years, and has been urged to change its policy since as early as 1983, when he testified at congressional hearings about how to improve the schedules, and again in 2007 when the problem continued to go unadressed.

The FAA currently allows traffic controllers to be scheduled for "rattler" shifts, working a night shift back to back with a day shift, often with no sleep opportunity in between. With naps prohibited during breaks, controllers can be on duty without having had any sufficient time to sleep in 24 hours. This causes the controllers' performance to be impaired on duty, with 36% admitting to even falling asleep behind the wheel on the drive home from work.

Dr. Czeisler says that "Transportation workers and management need to learn to minimize fatigue, starting with adoption of safer work schedules that provide enough time for sleep each day. " He also suggests that screening employees for sleep apnea, not scheduling controllers to work night shifts alone, and development of technologies to monitor alertness may help.

Related Links
NPR Interview with Dr. Czeisler concerning the effects of shiftwork on air traffic controllers

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