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FAA Forces Controller to Work 13-Hour, 40-Minute Shift in Gross Violation of Federal Air Regulations - (12/7/2007)

CONTACT: Dave Waite, NATCA Syracuse Tower, 585-813-1766; Phil Barbarello, NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President, 516-381-6424 

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – In a gross violation of federal air regulations and the Federal Aviation Administration’s own internal order governing safe working limits, the FAA earlier this week forced an air traffic controller at Syracuse Tower to work 13 hours and 40 minutes in a single shift, lasting from 2:20 p.m. EST to 4 a.m. EST. the next morning.

On Tuesday (Dec. 4), a controller scheduled to work the midnight shift that night called in sick due to a broken ankle. No controller was available for overtime due to short staffing. The decision was then made by the tower’s FAA manager to hold a controller over from the afternoon/evening shift until 4 a.m., creating a prime example of controller fatigue, which the General Accountability Office that very next day (Wednesday, Dec. 5) identified as a crucial safety problem that has created “a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision.” 

“This is a prime example of how staffing is really hurting us physically,” said NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello. “This decision was absolutely ridiculous and extremely unsafe.” 

Due to the FAA's imposed work rules, Syracuse Tower will lose four more veteran controllers to retirement in January, leaving the facility with just 16 fully trained and certified controllers. “This is not enough to safely staff the facility without working controllers past their breaking points into total exhaustion,” said Barbarello. “In less than 45 days, Syracuse Tower will be operating with one-half of the qualified air traffic controllers than it had just a few short years ago.”

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