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While FAA Pays Lip Service to Controller Fatigue Problem, NATCA Begins Work on Real Solutions - (6/16/2008)

CONTACT:  Doug Church, 301-346-8245

WASHINGTON – Air traffic controllers will participate in the FAA’s “Aviation Fatigue Management Symposium,” which begins tomorrow. But having seen enough of the agency’s continued refusal to comply with the National Transportation Safety Board’s April 2007 recommendations to work collaboratively with NATCA on controller fatigue issues, NATCA is announcing today its own plans to develop a “fatigue management system.”

Just last week, the NTSB recommended that the FAA develop a fatigue management system for all classes of operators that it regulates. NATCA would like the NTSB to require the FAA to develop a system for air traffic controllers and other FAA employees as well. Thus, NATCA will immediately launch work on a fatigue management system that will contain a variety of policies and countermeasures that are all focused on decreasing the likelihood of fatigue in the workplace.

NATCA’s proactive efforts to address one of aviation’s most critical issues comes just one week after it sent a letter to NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker, outlining how the FAA has continually rebuffed controllers’ efforts to work collaboratively on fatigue issues in the wake of three official NTSB recommendations on April 10, 2007 (A-07-30 through 32).

This week’s FAA symposium, said NATCA President Patrick Forrey, is “nothing more than another FAA publicity stunt, designed to show an appearance of concern for this issue. Apparently, the FAA now decides that an industry-wide symposium is needed when they can't even address their own employee fatigue issues well after a year from being asked by the NTSB. In fact, the agency has contributed to the fatigue problem by worsening the controller staffing crisis and imposing work rules on controllers in September 2006 that mandated longer work periods and fewer rest opportunities and even prohibited controllers from calling in sick due to fatigue.”

Continued Forrey: “The FAA holding a symposium on fatigue is like the big oil companies holding a symposium on high gas prices. While not a crisis entirely of its own making, the FAA must be held accountable for its failed management and policy decisions and brutally stressful, understaffed and exhausting working conditions that have caused the NTSB to add controller fatigue to its list of most important safety concerns.”

In fact, NTSB Member Steven Chealander, quoted in a Feb. 6, 2008 story in the Torrance (Calif.) Daily Breeze about his appearance at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said in response to a reporter’s question on LAX controller staffing, “They are maxed out, and so fatigue is an issue.”

Three NATCA facility representatives chronicled the relationship between understaffing and fatigue last Wednesday at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing. One of them, Melvin Davis from Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) – the busiest terminal radar facility in the country – testified that overtime mandated by FAA managers desperate to cover for understaffing had risen the past four years, from $250,000 spent to $4 million, greatly worsening the fatigue problem. “Every day I sit next to controllers who show the signs of accumulated fatigue,” he said. “The stress and strain of the extended overtime and increased demand manifests itself in visible physical changes. There are constant bags under our eyes.”

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