“We are conducting a top to bottom review of the way we operate our air traffic control system. We are all responsible and accountable for safety–from senior FAA leadership to the controller in the tower. Employees at the FAA work diligently every day to run the safest air transportation system in the world. But I will continue to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure we concentrate on keeping the traveling public safe.” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, April 16, 2011
“…the agency and the controllers association said they are also working on developing new work schedule "principles" aimed at reducing fatigue. They said those principles will be ready in 14 months if not sooner…” USA Today, July 1, 2011
Clearly, this is getting top priority in terms of research and a plan of action.
In a display of uncommon common sense rarely found in a government agency, the FAA has gone on record with some new rules: air traffic controllers may now listen to music and read "appropriate" materials in order to remain awake and alert during their shifts.
Let’s face it. We have nothing but government agencies in DC. If I had to fix the “sleeping on the job” problems in control towers from coast to coast, I’d turn to at least one of them for some help. Why not try?
From the ‘Glass Is Half-Full’ department: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund a multi-million dollar study to conduct preliminary, exploratory research to begin to get a rudimentary understanding of the sleep / wake cycles of air traffic controllers. Since they appear to be the only adults in America able to sleep easily and soundly without medical assistance, mimicking the conditions found in air traffic control towers in bedrooms across the country may bring an end to insomnia, or at least teach the rest of us how to grab a nap anytime, anywhere. The researchers expect to publish an abstract of the study sometime in the fall of 2019.
From ‘The Answer Is Right Under Your Nose’ department: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will sponsor a photo contest, where controller’s can post creative, hilarious images of co-workers asleep on the job. Citizens can vote on their favorites on the NEA / ATC fan page on Facebook. Prizes include a year’s supply of Perfect Liquid Protein, plus two gadgets that may help keep the winner alert and responsive: Light Relief Light Therapy and the Sunlight 365, all courtesy of, coincidentally enough, Skymall. The runner-up gets a choice between a packable walking stick and a genuine Handmade Irish Shillelagh, both perfect for awakening a dozing colleague.
From the ‘Turning Lemons Into Lemonade’ department: To keep people awake and alert, and to add some “fun” to the job, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will sponsor 24/7 Texas Hold’em Tournament, open only to FAA ATC employees. Players log in and then ante up at the beginning of each shift. If and when an aircraft demands their attention, they sit out a hand or two. Winnings get deposited into PayPal accounts and five percent of each evening’s proceeds will be paid toward reducing the deficit. A CBO spokesperson claims this alone will get the budget into the black in about eleven weeks.
Finally, from the ‘Silver Lining’ department: the White House has expanded its “Let’s Move” initiative into control towers from coast to coast. Controllers can now use a Sit-N Stroll Deluxe, a Spring Flex UB and an ePulse Heart Rate Monitor band to make sure no one overdoes it while they log miles on a stepper and build upper body strength, all while never leaving their desks.
The FAA itself continues to address the problem in that special way only a government agency can: by throwing more money and people at the problem. Now we have two people doing the job of one by adding more personnel to the towers where controllers have fallen asleep. This not only creates more wakefulness, it creates more jobs.
If only the private sector would follow suit – and hire two people to do a one-person job - we’d have everyone back to work in no time.