Let’s Really Address Fatigue; Not Look for Scapegoats

I just heard that Hank Krakowski, FAA Chief Operating Officer (COO), tendered his resignation in the wake of the recent negative press of controllers and supervisors falling asleep on midnight shifts.  I admit, I’m not a fan of his and believe he should have been fired years ago.  You can see my opinion of him in this old post, and this one from the FAA Follies from almost 3 years ago.  But, in all fairness to the man, his biggest contributions to this latest mess are the staffing/hiring levels and not really addressing the fatigue issues inherent in working our profession and midshifts.  And he has lots of company there (decades worth), so to allow his resignation without a real, meaningful change in both those areas is simply disingenuous and a misdirection as far as I’m concerned.

With the current media and the public lack of true understanding of the issues, any current controller is liable to get fired for stating what he/she feels publicly.  You’ll probably hear more from retired controllers, like Don Brown or R. Doug Wicker.  Praxis just uploaded a post.

I have worked a lot of midshifts in my career and I can state, without equivocation, that I have never missed a call from another controller or aircraft because I was sleeping on duty.  The only controller’s call I couldn’t answer (in 20 years) had to do with a serious intestinal issue that had me in the restroom with no way to answer.  I could go into more detail, but it was embarrassing, and only worth mentioning because sometimes our bodies betray us, whether we like it or not.

I can also state that I have have experienced difficulties making an ATIS (a totally routine operation) in the past (and probably in the future) at 5 or 6 am because I’ve been so tired that my words coming out of my mouth didn’t match the words in my head.  And I’ve had to repeat my actions repeatedly before I had a useable recording.  Those are usually the same mornings that I go take a nap in the NATCA office AFTER my midshift is over so that I can safely drive home.

Some people are day people, some are night owls.  We all start to feel sleepy when we are continually pushed outside our body’s natural rhythm.  It’s a fact of life.  Let’s start addressing that issue realistically – staffing adequately and mandating naps as the experts suggest.  Making us call each other on recorded lines every 15 minutes is not the answer; it’s a knee-jerk, don’t address the real problem response.

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4 Responses to Let’s Really Address Fatigue; Not Look for Scapegoats

  1. Pingback: 15,000 More Scapegoats | Martinlady's View Through the Looking Glass

  2. Pingback: What Others are Saying about Sleeping Controllers | R. Doug Wicker — Author

  3. Howard says:

    I am a controller from Mississippi. There is a huge story behind the controller fatigue issue but no media seems interested in the truth. I have been a controller for 33 years and will soon retire. The schedules that are being discussed and criticized have been in place for 30 years. To say controllers desire this is a stretch. The compressed schedule basically does this: Your work week is 3,2,10,8,6. This is a typical non mid schedule. Your first day back starts at 3 and your last day you get off at 2. Still 2 days off. Now, here are the facts. In 2006 the FAA cut controller pay 30% and froze that pay for 4 years. The already aging workforce (56 mandatory retirement) began retiring in record numbers. The contract was fixed last year in order to put a finger in the dam. Still less pay than 2006. The union was working with the FAA about the fatigue problem, but both sides had a problem. To fix the staffing crisis controllers began having to work 10 hour days and 6 day work weeks. In order to reverse the schedule to implement the NTSB recommendations in would make it illegal for a controller to work overtime because it would put them past their maximum 6 days of work in a row. So, the 6 day work week is needed to staff facilities with MINIMUM coverage. The FAA doesn’t want to admit they have a staffing crisis and the union doesn’t want to make Obama and Lahood look bad. At my facility we have 12 certified controllers and 10 trainees with 3 more by August. We should have 23 certified controllers. It takes 2 to 3 years to be certified to work alone. No media has come close to getting this story right. One Fox news commentator wondered if this being a stressful job was a myth and maybe we are really bored. Go to the FAA school then enter training and let me know if you think we are bored. That is absurd. If there isn’t a staffing problem then why are we working 6 day work weeks and 10 hour days? Why are they not implementing the number one recommendation of reversing the schedule? They can’t make it work. 9 hours will make 0 difference. Now Obama’s wife’s plane gets too close to another. These errors are also spiking since the staffing crisis started. FAA wants us to work more airplanes (combined sectors, TRACON combined to tower due to staffing, etc) with less controllers.

  4. Pingback: Little Said | Martinlady's View Through the Looking Glass

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