Air Traffic Controllers Suffer Scary Sleep Deprivation

The AP has results of a study faulting grueling schedules
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 10, 2015 1:24 PM CDT
Air Traffic Controllers Suffer Scary Sleep Deprivation
File photo: A study of air traffic controllers found that an alarming number don't get enough sleep.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

An FAA study about the nation's air traffic controllers suggests two big takeaways: They need more sleep and saner schedules. The AP obtained a draft report of a study that the agency has been keeping secret for about four years, perhaps so passengers wouldn't be worrying about stats like these:

  • About 20% of controllers committed serious errors on the job in the year prior to the study, such as bringing planes too close to one another, and about half blamed fatigue
  • About 33% of controllers deemed fatigue a "high" or "extreme" risk
  • More than 60% say they dozed off or zoned out while driving to or from late-night shifts, those that typically run from 10pm to 6am

  • While controllers averaged 5.8 hours of sleep per night in a work week, the figure dropped to 3.25 before some of the more grueling shifts
"Chronic fatigue may be considered to pose a significant risk to controller alertness, and hence to the safety of the ATC (air traffic control) system," says the study. Researchers looked especially closely at those who worked a schedule called the "rattler" in which they cram five eight-hour shifts into four 24-hour periods. Others work six days a week for a stretch of several weeks. Controllers tell the AP that such shifts are still in use years after the study was completed. (Not scared of flying yet? Read on.)

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