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FAA issues new rules to combat air traffic controller fatigue

(The Hill) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is issuing new rules and guidelines to combat reports of fatigue among air traffic controllers.

To lower the risk of exhaustion and burnout, the controllers will be mandated to take 12 hours off before midnight shifts and 10 hours off between shifts in general, FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said in a statement released on Friday. 

The requirements will be effective in 90 days. 

The new guidelines come after the FAA commissioned a panel of experts in late 2023 to find new avenues on how to “better address controller fatigue.” 

The 114-page report said that lack of sleep, particularly with night shifts, can compromise safety and lead to accidents. 

“In my first few months at the helm of the FAA, I toured air traffic control facilities around the country — and heard concerns about schedules that do not always allow controllers to get enough rest,” Whitaker said. “With the safety of our controllers and national airspace always top of mind for FAA, I took this very seriously — and we’re taking action.” 

After the guidelines were released by the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said they were “encouraged” by agency action they have taken on the issue. 

But the NATCA was also “disappointed” that collaboration between the union and the FAA was not executed. 

The union warned the “immediate” implementation of the new guidelines could lead to schedules not being adequately covered with an already short-staffed roster. 

“For more than a decade, NATCA has been sounding the alarm about the FAA’s staffing shortage and the fatigue and stress that places on the hardworking controllers we represent,” NATCA said in a Friday statement.  

“NATCA is concerned that with an already understaffed controller workforce, immediate application of the Administrator’s new rules may lead to coverage holes in air traffic facilities’ schedules. These holes may affect National Airspace System capacity. Requiring controllers to work mandatory overtime to fill those holes would increase fatigue and make the new policy nothing more than window dressing.”

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