News of air traffic controllers nodding off while on the job has promoted a lot of discussion lately. This has been a growing problem that Federal Aviation Administration is very concerned about. So far, at least five cases of sleeping or nodding off while on duty has occurred. The latest was Saturday when an air controller fell asleep at a Miami regional facility while on duty. The FAA wants workers to get more sleep while off duty and take naps on duty as recommended by sleep scientists.
Sleep scientists say that those who work odd hours are constantly disturbing their natural sleep patterns. Those that work night shifts or work a constantly changing schedule that goes from night shift to day shift, are susceptible to health risks from lack of adequate sleep. “It mucks up their biological rhythms,” says Dr. William Fishbein, a neuroscientist at the City University of New York. Studies say a sleep-deprived person is said to be like a drunk driver—very impaired.
What does this mean for air traffic controllers? The obvious answer is to allow more off time for sleep and the ability to take naps while on duty. Doctors do it and so do truck drivers. Many other countries such as Japan and Germany, have seen the benefit of nap times for their controllers while on duty. Having scheduled sleep breaks is exactly what the FAA and National Air Traffic Controllers Association will recommend for controllers working during midnight shifts.
On Sunday, new rules say controllers must take nine hours off in between all shifts. This is a change from the eight that was required before. The new rule also will require more managers be on duty to monitor any nodding off that might happen.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is determined not allow any dozing off to occur on his watch. He is also opposed to assigned sleep breaks that scientists suggest. “On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps. We’re not going to allow that,” LaHood promised. “They are going to be paid to do the job that they’re trained to do, which involves guiding planes in and out of airports safely. But we are not going to pay controllers to be napping.” LaHood feels it is the air controllers personal responsibility to get adequate rest at home. He feels enough has been done to prevent dozing off on the job. “We’ve taken steps, as of this morning, to begin changing schedules for controllers, to change schedules for managers, and to make sure that controllers cannot switch in and out of their schedules in order for the convenience of them if they are not well-rested,” LaHood said today.